My Alphabet reading challenge - A

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jul 11th 2018, 11:03pm

I was first introduced to the American novelist Curtis Sittenfeld with her book “Sisterland” which has been reviewed on this site; I can’t now remember where I got it from. I liked it but not enough to obsessively track down the rest of her novels and read those (something I have a tendency to do with authors). The second of her books I read was “Eligible” which is a modern rewriting of “Pride and Prejudice” and is part of a series of modern Austen rewrites (although that seems to have stalled with a couple of the titles not being tackled – maybe I am the only one who read them all ?). I loved “Eligible” (reviewed on this site) and so I then went on to read “Prep” which I didn’t enjoy as much mainly because the main character is so irritating.

For this challenge I chose “American Wife” which is another standalone book by this author which I had on my shelves to be read. I had picked it up at a charity shop and hadn’t paid very much for it but have enjoyed most of her previous books and “Eligible” very much indeed. This is a novel about a woman who eventually becomes the wife of a man who becomes the American president. It is a life story and covers a period in the twentieth century in which society was changing significantly and social changes are reflected in the story line which touches on lesbianism, abortion, free love and the role of women in society amongst other things. Reading up on the book afterwards I gathered that it is loosely based on the life of Barbara Bush but because I know absolutely nothing about her I can’t tell you how true to life it is.

This is quite a long novel and it is enjoyable in that it follows a life through a number of years which I do like. I enjoy saga like novels (see William Boyd and Jane Smiley for two authors who do this well). The book concentrates on Alice’s early years leading to a momentous event when she is in her late teens which affects the rest of her life and then moves to her later, married state and what happens as her husband advances politically. Fortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of politics because I don’t know a lot about the way that the American system works.

I was engaged enough to follow the book through and to read it to the end but I have to say that it wasn’t the most enjoyable novel I have read nor even the most enjoyable by this writer. The problem was, like “Prep”, that the main character is almost completely inert. Alice grows up and things happen around her but she only really realises what has happened later. Something dreadful happens and she feels guilty but it has no real repercussions apart from one which can be quickly dealt with. She doesn’t want to be a political wife but it seems to happen and she drifts along with it. She fears that her secret will be outed in public but somehow it doesn’t happen. It’s all readable enough but Alice is just so frustrating. It is like she is Lee from “Prep” but grown up. I grew very weary of her and although I waited for her to suddenly break out of her passivity it never happened – or at least not far enough for me. It is possible that the author wrote the book this way because that was the experience of women during those times but it didn’t make it any more exciting to read.

This first book in my challenge gets only three stars and a mental note not to bother with any more of this author’s novels in the future. My next alphabet book is a poem which will be very different.