Thursday, August 13, 2009

Curtis Sittenfeld 'American Wife'

This is Minerva's first Bodice Ripper Review, and she's more than a little nervous. All this blog stuff is new to her, and she's fairly certain she'll screw up the formatting. What's more, Heloise's trenchant brilliance is a tough act to follow. And finally, Minerva has a difficult confession to make in this particular setting .......... she really, truly does not like romance novels. Not at all.

Or does she?

Minerva has spent the past few days unabashedly wallowing in the voyeuristic pleasures of 'American Wife'. The book -- which Sittenfeld says she wrote in a frenzy of haste in order to release it during the 2008 Republican Convention -- is a fictionalized account of the life and marriage of former First Lady Laura Bush. It is simply overflowing with graphic, steamy, and occasionally sordid sex.

Graphic, sordid sex is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Laura Bush. But with this book, Sittenfeld takes on the question that troubled so many of us during the Bush years: how on earth did a modest, intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, liberal-leaning, pro-choice lady like Laura end up hitched to a guy like Dubya?

As the romance novelists knew all along, the answer apparently lies in a potent cocktail of true love and hot sex.

Each of the book's four sections is built upon actual events from Laura Bush's life, fleshed out with plenty of pure fiction, and set -- delightfully! -- in Wisconsin rather than Texas. The first section is by far the best. In it, the 17-year-old heroine (Alice Lindgren) accidentally runs a stop sign, causing the death of a classmate who is almost, but not quite, her boyfriend. In a few seconds of inattention and bad luck, the course of her life is changed forever. It's powerful stuff. Minerva is trying to avoid using the word "poignant" ..... but there it is.

The second section is also quite engaging, as Alice, now in her early 30s, is swept off her feet by the cocky, charming ne'er-do-well rich boy Charlie Blackwell. Her first encounter with his no-holds-barred family is unforgettable for many reasons, not least the limerick beginning "Nymphomaniacal Alice." Minerva would love to tell you the whole thing, but that would be a spoiler. Most of the hot sex scenes appear during this section.

From there, unfortunately, it's all downhill: alcoholism, bad behavior, evangelical Christianity, Republican politics, Karl Rove, and the war in Iraq. By the end, even though Alice has (unlike Laura) dared to publicly assert her personal views on a highly controversial issue, it feels like she is simply maundering on, alternately blaming and excusing herself for the path her life has taken. The hot sex has also dropped off considerably by this point in the book ... but Minerva supposes that's what happens when a romance novel loses its way and drags on for 30 years of marriage.

It's still a terrific read, and well worth your while. Especially that limerick.

Rating: 4 out of 5 toots of your own horn.


Heloise said...

Nice Debut! You scared the pants off of me (actually my favorite jean skirt but I don't want to get too personal) by popping in like that.

We have to make sure we show up on alternate days somehow, missing the date on the top of the entry is a bummer. :)

Glad you finally joined me, dear.

Anonymous said...

It was fun, although it took longer to write than I expected .... I am pretty sure I haven't written a book review since 6th grade.

Do you want odd days or evens? :-)

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

We at BBAW are trying to contact you!!

Please email mypalamyATgmailDOTcom for information about YOUR Book Blogger Appreciation Week nomination.