Book Review: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife is the story of Alice Blackwell, wife, mother, and First Lady of the United States. Author Curtis Sittenfeld follows Alice from her young days of first love in Wisconsin through unimaginable tragedy and into her later years as the wife of a screw-up in a very political family. This book is not the story of Laura Bush, but it is loosely based on events in her life.

American Wife is a well-written story that gives the plausible scenario of how a small-town school librarian can become the First Lady of the United States. Sittenfeld is masterful when writing relatable characters, and both Alice and her husband Charlie are relatable, even as they take on one of the highest-profile careers in the world. Sittenfeld doesn’t shy away from character flaws and insecurities; she attacks them head-on and even highlights them. There were so many parts of this book that I connected with… but for whatever reason, it just couldn’t hold my interest for too long.

I’ve loved Sittenfeld’s writing in the past, so I think I expected too much from American Wife. The author came onto my radar with Prep, an intensely realistic look at a teenager coming up through her high school years in a prep-school environment. The earlier Sittenfeld works had more to do with high school or a focus on college, and just after, American Wife is a slight departure from her earlier books. I’m left wondering if I prefer Sittenfeld’s characters in their younger years rather than mid to late life. Still, I enjoyed the story, connected with the characters, and the pace wasn’t bad at all – it just wasn’t one of my favorites.

“I have been granted the terrible privilege of deciding what would have happened with no one left to contradict me. And maybe I am absolutely wrong.”

Curtis Sittenfeld has an excellent track record with me so far, and I will most certainly read her work in the future, but American Wife was more an ‘okay’ book than a ‘good’ or ‘great’ one. However, I’d still urge you to pick it up if it interests you and give it a shot. Sittenfeld is a fantastic author, and all of her published work is at least worth a try, in my opinion.

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