In the High Peaks

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

American Wife & the Laura Bush Memoir

Hordes of reviewers have disagreed with me and more have relegated Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife to the garbage cans of our nation, but all of that was knee-jerk, hysterical nonsense. (The book's longevity on the bestseller list was proof of this. And yes, the New York Times had the good sense to make it a Notable Book for 2008.)

I have never been a conservative nor will I ever be, nor was I a fan of Laura Bush when I decided to read American Wife in 2008. Yet, from the first chapter, I knew a great, compelling read once I plunged into it.

I had felt so lukewarm (perhaps tepid is a better descriptor) about Prep, Sittenfeld's first book, another big bestseller. But American Wife was so well done in comparison, so completely different, that I had a hard time reminding myself that the author of Prep wrote it. Prep was trivial, American Wife walked onto the grand stage of life.

I will admit, however, that American Wife's greatness ended when Charlie (the George Bush character) enters the White House. The last part of the book is anti-climactic and quite dreadful, but it lasts for much less than 100 pages out of a huge book.

It's worthwhile to remind potential readers that the book has nothing to do with Charlie or George Bush. This is Alice Blackwell's story. In fact, much more than half the book transpires before Alice even meets Charlie.

American Wife is about a lost, serious girl, an only child of equally serious parents, who causes a tragedy in a very small town--the death of a close friend, a high-school student. Sittenfeld is so skilled, she handles the central event of Laura's young life with enormous empathy, and it is a heart-rending tale.

Exactly how did Laura Bush end up married to George? We need only look to the enormity of the tragedy in her teens to explain her overwhelming need to help and to heal lost people.

So, what can we say about Spoken from the Heart, Laura Bush's memoir appearing in bookstores this week? Whatever will be said about it, Laura must want to set the record straight about her life. I can't imagine anything more dreadful than a novelist writing a bestseller about my oh so personal past. I hope that Laura, for her sake, gets the last word.

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