We recently heard this book referred to as ‘the thinking woman’s holiday read’. Whilst we rally against any form of book snobbery, we do agree with this sentiment. American Wife is a book that’s both equally well written as it is compelling. It is so good that you’ll want to ignore everyone around you just to finish it.
American Wife Book Review
Now we know that a book about Laura Bush (the former first lady of the United States and wife of George W Bush) might not sound like the next read you need in your life. but trust us, it is! American Wife is not a new read but it is one I have loved for years. I should begin by saying I see myself as liberal so my recommendation is not due to any political affiliations. That’s not why I love this book. The story manages to fictionalise the life of a former first lady. Then it speaks more to her humanity than it does her politics.
About the Storyline
American Wife follows the life of Alice Blackwell from her humble Midwestern beginnings. It is split into four parts, each cleverly listed by her address so you follow her from 1272 Amity Lane, right through to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The novel separates the ideas you might have formed around the first lady from the person they actually are. I was as guilty as anyone of tarring Laura Bush with the same thoughts I had of her husband. Sittenfeld offers an alternative view: she gives us a moral, intelligent and sympathetic woman. She also reflects an uncomfortable truth to us – that we are guilty of removing a person’s own identity because we’re so willing to assign them the views of their perhaps louder, more famous partner. It also makes us question how culpable we are for our own partner’s views and opinions as well as wondering how aligned our sentiments really are.
The other thing I love about the story is that it speaks to attraction, marriages and long-term relationships without shying away from the inherent problems that many couples face. It covers differences of opinions, past personal histories, difficult inlaws, substance abuse and economic and class disparity, examining the way that this couple have managed their relationship through the years and mitigated their issues. It’s a beautiful portrait of two people who are in love in spite of their differences and their backgrounds.
I recently re-read this book and it showed itself to me in a whole new light upon a second read. The social and political landscapes of our world have changed dramatically since I first read American Wife. Therefore, some of the meanings took on a whole new light. I found myself dissecting the story and characters in new ways, finding I didn’t like some as much as I did before. As you can probably tell by now, I could wax lyrical about this book all day. It is exquisitely written and it challenges the way we see the world (especially middle America) in a thoughtful way. It gently asks us to reexamine our own prejudices. That is the way we see progress and change: it starts within.
It’s a 10 from me. I’ve spent the past seven years pushing this book onto anyone that asks (and many who don’t). I have no doubt I’ll be rereading it again a few years from now. Put aside any preconceived notions and just dive in, I promise you won’t regret it!
Book review by Arwen Sellick for World of Wanderlust.