American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld -- Book Review

"That the world was miraculous, frequently in inexplicable ways, I would not argue. That these miracles had any relationship to the buildings we called churches, to the sequences of words we called prayers—that I was less sure of."

If you haven't read American Wife yet, I'm guessing the book is either on your TBR list or you've made a conscious decision not to put it there. I would suggest a third alternative: read the first 3 sections, and then:





American Wife, based very loosely on the life of Laura Bush (a.k.a. Alice Blackwell), reads like an leisurely, well-written epic. Narrated by Alice, the story is at times funny and often poignant. Unfortunately, after writing a beautiful, engrossing tale about a woman who would be first lady and her charming-yet-flawed husband Charlie, Sittenfeld trades in her storyteller's perch for a pundit's soapbox.

The narrative jumps ahead 10 years, past Charlie's stint as governor and into his second term as president, where we meet one-dimensional incarnations of Charlie and Alice, instead of the interesting, complicated characters that had occupied the book thus far. This fourth and final section takes place over a single day, most of which Alice spends making bland, unenlightened reflections on her husband and his presidency, and then concludes with an utterly predictable flourish.

I don't know if Sittenfeld thought she had earned her soapbox after the first 3 sections, or if she simply wasn't comfortable writing about life in the presidency, but this book could have been great. Unfortunately, the final section drags it down to barely mediocre.

Laura Bush will be publishing her memoir next year.

Buy American Wife at


nomadreader said...

As you know, I loved this book so much it has become my favorite book of all time. I enjoyed the fourth section too, although I would not have minded if it were longer. I think there was enough interior monologue set-up to carry the fourth section; the presidency didn't change them as individuals. I'm glad to see you at least enjoyed most of it!
My review is here.

samantha.1020 said...

You are right..I've already got this one on my TBR list as does probably everyone else :) Interesting review.

Jo-Jo said...

I think that is a very honest review of this book. I read it this summer and I think that overall I really did enjoy it....the first two-thirds of the book anyway. I also did not care for the ending.

Anonymous said...

ROTFL! The "...Sittenfeld trades in her storyteller's perch for a pundit's soapbox." nearly put me under the computer desk!

This book just never interested me to the point of actual purchase. Besides, I don't think it fits my book challenges.

Love your review though!

ANovelMenagerie said...

thanks for the honest review.

Margo said...

Thanks for this honest review. I heard the author interviewed on NPR a while back about this book, and it all sounded so bizarre. It felt like an anti Bush regime rant from the beginning, and to me, anyway, she sounded just a little full of herself. I wasn't a huge fan of Prep, because this same tone came through as I recall, but I have to admit I couldn't put it down.. When they were talking about this book I wondered at first if they were talking about a non-fiction work. Maybe she would have been better off if she had just used Laura B. as initial inspiration.

Kitten said...

I just reviewed this book as a part of my 100+ book challenge this year. Yesterday at the library I purchased a copy of a biography of Laura Bush for a $1. I would like to put the two books side by side to compare and contrast what they each say. It's been interesting reading so far.

avisannschild said...

I had a similar reaction as you did to this book.

My review is here.

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