May 1, 2009

American Wife

I finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I loved it.

I feel like I should rush to point out that Curtis Sittenfeld is a GIRL, and the reason I'm pointing that out is that I almost didn't read Prep, which I also loved, because I generally don't like to read a book with a female narrator and a male author. Some of them make it clear the male author thinks the female brain is "Shoes shoes shoes SEXY MEN shoes shoes BRAND NAMES shoes shoes!" So if that bugs you, too, you might skip this book thinking it's one of those, just because you think Curtis is a boy's name. It's not! She's a girl!

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes. The book. I almost didn't read Prep because I thought it had a male author, and I almost didn't read American Wife because I thought it was going to be mean. I don't like to read mean books. But it was not mean.

My mom and I both like to have a mild to moderate awareness of celebrity goings-ons. That is, we both read People magazine, and we sometimes talk a little about celebrity news. And sometimes, the official version we're reading doesn't make sense to us, so we talk about it until we think of an explanation that DOES fit the situation. Sometimes we think we may even be RIGHT---that is, that the reps of everyone involved are trying to spin things to look one way, but that details don't make sense with that explanation, and our explanation is the one that makes sense and is in fact more likely to be true or at least contain more of the essence of the truth.

This is a FICTION book. It is not even "biographical fiction," where the author tries to write as accurately as possible but is forced to fictionalize certain elements such as private dialogue. This is JUST FICTION. BUT! It seems to me that it was MORE TRUE than an autobiography or a biography would have been, in the same way my mom and I sometimes feel like we've come up with an explanation that rings more true than the one the celebrity magazines are giving us.

An autobiography or an authorized biography would be the same carefully-spun information the public is given through magazines and press releases and scripted interviews. And an unauthorized biography tends to be spiteful, making use of quotes from all the people who are eager to speak up for something unauthorized. But this! This is different. This seems MORE TRUE than any of those other things would be, even if the guesses are WAY OFF. I can imagine Laura Bush reading it thinking, "Well, no, heavens no, that didn't happen.........but actually, this does give the GIST of the reason why I did that."

What I get what I read this book is that the author had a lot of the same wonderings I had about George W. Bush and about Laura Bush and about the two of them together, and that the released details didn't make sense to her, and that she went over it and over it and over it until she thought of a context in which all the details WOULD make sense. When things clicked into place, she wrote it down as a story of Charlie and Alice Blackwell, but making no attempt to be coy about it: she makes it clear who they're supposed to be, but also that she made it up so she uses non-real names.

One detail I could have lived a happy life WITHOUT was the fictionalized (ONE HOPES) description of "Charlie Blackwell"'s penis and what "Alice Blackwell" thought of it. I mean, srsly. How am I supposed to recommend this book to my mother?

15 comments:

Jess said...

OK, I wrote a comment but Blogger seems to have eaten it. I was just saying that I totally agree with your assessment of how she came to the context of the whole thing. But I did get frustrated with the incredible amount of introspective internal monologues that went on.

Kim said...

This sucker has been sitting in my to-read pile for over a month now and I can't wait to get to it. I've read a few interviews with Sittenfield where she said she definitely wanted to make it clear who she modeled the characters after, but also was slightly remorseful about the more intimate details she took creative license with. Either way, I'm hoping for a JUICY GOOD TIME!
I also loved Prep, but don't bother with The Man of My Dreams unless you have nothing better to read at the time. Not horrible, but not that great either.

Elizabeth said...

I loved it too. I honestly couldn't have cared less what she was writing about, I just think Curtis Sittenfeld is such a beautiful writer.
I think about that book all the time now. I'm so glad you liked it.

Karen said...

Ooh, a new book on my to read list. I liked Prep and almost didn't read it for the same reasons you stated about the author's name. How funny!

pseudostoops said...

I read an interview with her where she said she had a special version made for her parents where all the sexy bits had been edited out. Perhaps she should offer that version for sale for those of us who would like to recommend the book to our mothers?

Emily said...

I finished it last night but I wasn't totally convinced about the ending. I loved their relationship though; just LOVED how weird and balanced it was. They were true opposites.

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

Okay, I have to move this book higher on my to read list. This is the third time I've heard American Wife mentioned this week.

donna said...

I got that book for Christmas and devoured it in like three days because I could not put it down. I loved it, but wondered how much of it is really similar to Laura Bush's actual life it really is. Great book though!

tracynicole22 said...

Ha! My first thought when I saw that book was, I don't want to read a book written by a man from a woman's perspective! Not a fan of that either! But yeah, when I looked it up on Amazon, I figured out Curtis was a woman, who knew! It's on my to read list now!

AlienBea said...

You have totally convinced me to read this! Yay for online library holds! ;)

Mama Bub said...

I'm with Jess, I could have done without all of the internal monologue. I might have loved the book if it were 100 pages shorter. I'm not averse to the length itself, but felt like there were 100 pages worth of extraneous information. That said, I'm not sorry I read it. And, I feel like I get Laura Bush a little bit better.

js said...

It's funny that you mention that Curtis is a girl. Because I got three quarters of the way through the book when the thought come to me, "Wow, for a guy, the author is really tapped into the female brain." And then I saw the back flap and realized that HE is a SHE. It all made sense, and I felt like a moron!

willikat said...

great book review! i want to read this. in some of my writing classes, we talked a lot about how fiction is sometimes more real than the truth. if that makes sense. just that sometimes it gets at the heart of the human condition more than details that don't quite cobble together.

Smiling Mama said...

Ohhhh! Fun. I am going to add this to my book list right now! Thanks!!

nicole said...

I enjoyed the book too. I thought it was interesting, and a way to explore some of the seeming impossibilities of their marriage. Very fair without being fawning or hyper critical.