Monday, March 16, 2009

So much more palatable when fictionalized...

American Wife: A Novel
by Curtis Sittenfeld

Someone recently asked me why I enjoyed this novel so much, and all I could come up with was, "It was a really good story. It's entertaining." I should probably elaborate on that.

American Wife is an account of the ordinary and extraordinary life of a fictional First Lady. By all accounts it is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, and Mrs. Bush does share some commonalities with our heroine, Alice Lindgren. For instance, both are avid readers and former librarians. Both married wealthy, connected, affable underachievers. Both came from a middleclass background. But, of course, Alice is not Laura Bush.

I do not count myself among Mrs. Bush's admirers, so I'm not overly familiar with her real life story. Truly, it left me wondering just how parallel the story being told by Curtis Sittenfeld was with that of the First Lady. Did Mrs. Bush have to overcome a trauma early in life as did Sittenfeld's heroine? Did she grow up with a live-in grandmother? Honestly, I don't think I care enough to find out--though I sure would love to stumble upon a magazine article spelling everything out, LOL.

What I do know is this: I have never spent a single minute wondering what it would be like to be First Lady. Does any little girl (or big girl) seriously dream of such things? Certainly our protagonist Alice didn't. She's an everywoman, and as such I found her personable and relatable. The fairy tale story of her life was fascinating to me, in the way that real life never has been, perhaps due to a lack of imagination on my part. Truthfully, I feel like this novel gave me a little more empathy for those who live in the White House than watching eight or nine seasons of The West Wing ever did.

I read this novel while house-bound with an injury. I'd been laid up for a while, and had been reading A LOT. I was, in fact, a bit stir crazy. When I started American Wife, it grabbed me right away. I turned pages gleefully for hours on end. It entertained me more than I would have ever guessed. In the end, can you ask for more than that?

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