Saturday, August 23, 2008

What We're Reading: American Wife

When I discovered that Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep, had a book due out in September, I was elated. When I was informed that it would use the life of Laura Bush as its inspiration, I was uncertain. I didn't necessarily want to put a face to the characters and, in bedroom scenes, definitely not. (Reaction? Mild embarrassment and fascination, coupled with horror.) Sittenfeld is a master of the coming-of-age female voice, however, and I was immediately drawn in and reluctant to do anything other than read. It even won out against the Xbox 360, which had admittedly seen way more of my time over the past month than other sedentary activities. (1000 achievement points in Viva Piñata, yay me.)

You may think you know what such a book would be, but you don't, really. At least, I didn't. Her life as first lady comes late in the novel. It feels a little like an afterthought, actually. The main excitement and drama comes at the beginning, when a sudden and unexpected tragedy occurs that colors the rest of the story. Family dynamics and social classes, familiar themes in both of her earlier novels, get the chance to "grow up" with the main character of Alice. That she started her life as a librarian is one of the many reasons I grew to love the character, and I can't help but wonder what is based in truth and what is fantasy. My main and only complaint with American Wife is that the jump from governor's wife to first lady is awkward. So much care and detail is poured into the first part or her life, from childhood to early motherhood, that the second part has no other choice than to accelerate. Much of her life in the governor's mansion is also intermixed here, which is confusing. In fact, there's enough past-present fluctuations here to befit a particularly engrossing episode of Lost, though it doesn't quite work here.

THAT SAID, it is an excellent book and she does tie everything together nicely by the end. If you're looking for a fast-paced read with richly described characters and more than a little scandal, this would be it. Links to the catalog are forthcoming.

No comments: