Bonnie’s Book Bytes

Bonnie Godas

In the turbulent presidential times in which we live, many people that are directly involved closely with the Commander in Chief sometimes lose public interest. The first lady is an example of one that often becomes unnoticed, falling by the wayside to her powerful other-half. Though the first ladies of our nation have been intelligent, with notable credentials, most see the primary tasks of the first lady as simply picking out new china or buying new drapery for the Oval Office.

In “American Wife”, Curtis Sittenfeld shows that there is much more to this oft-forgotten woman-a complex and interesting character. Fiction can get away with a lot by telling a story based on truth. Though this book uses different names and places to protect the innocent and not so innocent, the story bears an uncanny resemblance to the life of our current Republican first lady, Laura Bush.

The book begins in the 1940’s where our main character Alice takes us on a journey through her childhood, which takes place in Wisconsin. Her life seems pretty uneventful: she has parents with a solid marriage and lives in a home with her parents and her grandmother. Her mother is quite attentive, calm in nature, and a meticulous housekeeper. Her father is a banker with an unusual fascination with bridges. He also seemed to be a very loving parent to Alice.

While her parents have a strong relationship with each other and Alice, it seems her grandmother is her biggest influence. Her grandmother shows an intense love of books and her inspiration is apparent when Alice uses this passion for herself to become a librarian in a school (strikingly, like Mrs. Bush).

With all these positive factors in her life, at 17-years-old she runs a stop sign and kills a young boy. When she meets “squinty eyed” Charlie Blackwell (aka George W.) a decade later, it isn’t quite love at first sight. After all, how could being a registered Democrat of modest means, as Alice had been, compare with a life of wealth and privilege? Blackwell is a Republican and many of the values he holds true go against her own beliefs (often as the views of Democrats and Republicans do today). Despite the many differences between them, Alice falls in love with Charlie.

However, the outside can certainly appear different than the feelings one holds inside; and to show inner feelings can be dangerous. Alice must find a way to work out her inner conflicts and fight the demons that make her second guess her life choices. It is a mismatch, between our two main characters, for sure but this is primarily Alice’s story. While the large majority cannot claim First Lady status, Alice’s story of conflicting inner and outer forces is a story that anyone, Republican or Democrat, can relate to. It happens too often to many of us– one lifestyle collides with another and all we can do is, like Alice, hope for happily ever after and pray that it doesn’t end with a train wreck.