A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the President. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes Governor and then President, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with - and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband's Presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.
This is Curtis Sittenfeld's third novel which is based on a fictionalized portrait of the former First Lady, Laura Bush whom she calls Alice Blackwell and is easily one of the best books written in 2008. It is honest, wonderful and very smart with a twist. It is not easy to write fiction based on current events but she does it effortlessly. I must admit that I was fascinated by this complex maternal figure so this was a must read!
The book charts Alice's journey from childhood, her growing-up experiences, her family and life as a single woman, her courtships, her experience with the Blackwell family, and her relationship with her husband, the future President.
Alice Lindgren is intelligent, thoughtful, inclined to be reserved and a lover of books and libraries. As a girl of seventeen she accidentally caused the death of a high-school classmate, a boy, to whom she was attracted, by running a stop sign at a darkened rural intersection and crashing in to his car. Alice, like her real-life model Laura Bush, who had a similar accident as a girl of seventeen in 1963 in her hometown, Midland, Tex, is not charged but Sittenfeld makes this incident the defining moment of Alice's life which is motivated by guilt and loss including the humiliating sexual relationship she begins with the dead boy's brother after his death. This results in a pregnancy that Alice's grandmother helps her to end. More than forty years later, the doctor who performed the abortion attempts to blackmail Alice in publicly opposing her husband's nomination of a conservative Supreme Court Judge.
She is an idealistic grammar-school librarian of 31 when she is introduced to Charlie Blackwell and finds herself courted by him. She is initially overwhelmed by the crude and overbearing wealthy Blackwell clan in to which it seems her destiny to marry.
American Wife is most engaging in its early chapters, when Alice Lindgren is not yet Alice Blackwell but an insecure young woman haunted by the memory of the boy she accidentally killed as a girl yet dedicated to teaching and to a life defined by books.
Really enjoyed it