American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld's newest novel

Curtis Sittenfeld is a brilliant writer. I was first introduced to her work by the short essay “Your Life as a Girl,” a heartbreakingly poignant—and arrestingly well-written—piece about what it can be like to grow up as a woman in this society. I was captivated by Prep, her coming-of-age novel about a girl with working-class roots that attends an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. Sittenfeld’s adeptness at conveying the anxiety and pain and wonder of adolescence is remarkable. I am especially interested in the class and gender dynamics that inform and are repeatedly examined in Sittenfeld’s work.

In her newest novel, American Wife, she takes on the perspective of a certain American first lady. Loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the novel follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a polite girl from Wisconsin who survives a tragic accident in high school and, through a series of events, finds herself in the White House. The narrative shows how, little compromise by little compromise, a person can get so far away from certain values they hold dear, in service of others, and what it’s like to live your way into a life virtually unrecognizable to oneself. It shows what it is to be charmed, swept away, and the long-lasting effects of that. It shows how hard it is to live a life of contradictions.

This is a book that’s hard to put down and hard to let go of when you’ve turned the last page. That I would ever say that about a book loosely based on the life of Laura Bush is testament to Curtis Sittenfeld’s serious talent for effectively portraying the complexities and nuances of a person’s life, including the rich inner life.

I just ordered the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit, a collection I’m excited to check out that includes a piece by Sittenfeld. It will have to wait until I’m done with my newest read (which I just started and am already mesmerized by), though—The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.