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A Novel

Written by Curtis SittenfeldAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Curtis Sittenfeld



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On Sale: September 02, 2008
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband’s presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House–and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, “almost in opposition to itself.”

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.

As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?

In Alice Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is a gorgeously written novel that weaves class, wealth, race, and the exigencies of fate into a brilliant tapestry–a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.


Praise for American Wife

“Curtis Sittenfeld is an amazing writer, and American Wife is a brave and moving novel about the intersection of private and public life in America. Ambitious and humble at the same time, Sittenfeld refuses to trivialize or simplify people, whether real or imagined.”
–Richard Russo

“What a remarkable (and brave) thing: a compassionate, illuminating, and beautifully rendered portrait of a fictional Republican first lady with a life and husband very much like our actual Republican first lady’s. Curtis Sittenfeld has written a novel as impressive as it is improbable.”
–Kurt Andersen


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

PART I
1272 Amity Lane  

In 1954, the summer before I entered third grade, my grandmother mistook Andrew Imhof for a girl. I’d accompanied my grandmother to the grocery store—that morning, while reading a novel that mentioned hearts of palm, she’d been seized by a desire to have some herself and had taken me along on the walk to town—and it was in the canned-goods section that we encountered Andrew, who was with his mother. Not being of the same generation, Andrew’s mother and my grandmother weren’t friends, but they knew each other the way people in Riley, Wisconsin, did. Andrew’s mother was the one who approached us, setting her hand against her chest and saying to my grandmother, “Mrs. Lindgren, it’s Florence Imhof. How are you?”

Andrew and I had been classmates for as long as we’d been going to school, but we merely eyed each other without speaking. We both were eight. As the adults chatted, he picked up a can of peas and held it by securing it between his flat palm and his chin, and I wondered if he was showing off.

This was when my grandmother shoved me a little. “Alice, say hello to Mrs. Imhof.” As I’d been taught, I extended my hand. “And isn’t your daughter darling,” my grandmother continued, gesturing toward Andrew, “but I don’t believe I know her name.”

A silence ensued during which I’m pretty sure Mrs. Imhof was deciding how to correct my grandmother. At last, touching her son’s shoulder, Mrs. Imhof said, “This is Andrew. He and Alice are in the same class over at the school.”

My grandmother squinted. “Andrew, did you say?” She even turned her head, angling her ear as if she were hard of hearing, though I knew she wasn’t. She seemed to willfully refuse the pardon Mrs. Imhof had offered, and I wanted to tap my grandmother’s arm, to tug her over so her face was next to mine and say, “Granny, he’s a boy!” It had never occurred to me that Andrew looked like a girl—little about Andrew Imhof had occurred to me at that time in my life—but it was true that he had unusually long eyelashes framing hazel eyes, as well as light brown hair that had gotten a bit shaggy over the summer. However, his hair was long only for that time and for a boy; it was still far shorter than mine, and there was nothing feminine about the chinos or red-and-white-checked shirt he wore.

“Andrew is the younger of our two sons,” Mrs. Imhof said, and her voice contained a new briskness, the first hint of irritation. “His older brother is Pete.”

“Is that right?” My grandmother finally appeared to grasp the situation, but grasping it did not seem to have made her repentant. She leaned forward and nodded at Andrew—he still was holding the peas—and said, “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. You be sure my granddaughter behaves herself at school. You can report back to me if she doesn’t.”

Andrew had said nothing thus far—it was not clear he’d been paying enough attention to the conversation to understand that his gender was in dispute—but at this he beamed: a closed-mouth but enormous smile, one that I felt implied, erroneously, that I was some sort of mischief-maker and he would indeed be keeping his eye on me. My grandmother, who harbored a lifelong admiration for mischief, smiled back at him like a conspirator. After she and Mrs. Imhof said goodbye to each other (our search for hearts of palm had, to my grandmother’s disappointment if not her surprise, proved unsuccessful), we turned in the opposite direction from them. I took my grandmother’s hand and whispered to her in what I hoped was a chastening tone, “Granny.”

Not in a whisper at all, my grandmother said, “You don’t think that child looks like a girl? He’s downright pretty!”

“Shhh!”

“Well, it’s not his fault, but I can’t believe I’m the first one to make that mistake. His eyelashes are an inch long.”

As if to verify her claim, we both turned around. By then we were thirty feet from the Imhofs, and Mrs. Imhof had her back to us, leaning toward a shelf. But Andrew was facing my grandmother and me. He still was smiling slightly, and when my eyes met his, he lifted his eyebrows twice.

“He’s flirting with you!” my grandmother exclaimed.

“What does ‘flirting’ mean?”

She laughed. “It’s when a person likes you, so they try to catch your attention.”

Andrew Imhof liked me? Surely, if the information had been delivered by an adult—and not just any adult but my wily grandmother—it had to be true. Andrew liking me seemed neither thrilling nor appalling; mostly, it just seemed unexpected. And then, having considered the idea, I dismissed it. My grandmother knew about some things, but not the social lives of eight-year-olds. After all, she hadn’t even recognized Andrew as a boy.



In the house I grew up in, we were four: my grandmother, my parents, and me. On my father’s side, I was a third-generation only child, which was greatly unusual in those days. While I certainly would have liked a sibling, I knew from an early age not to mention it—my mother had miscarried twice by the time I was in first grade, and those were just the pregnancies I knew about, the latter occurring when she was five months along. Though the miscarriages weighted my parents with a quiet sadness, our family as it was seemed evenly balanced. At dinner, we each sat on one side of the rectangular table in the dining room; heading up the sidewalk to church, we could walk in pairs; in the summer, we could split a box of Yummi-Freez ice-cream bars; and we could play euchre or bridge, both of which they taught me when I was ten and which we often enjoyed on Friday and Saturday nights.

Although my grandmother possessed a rowdy streak, my parents were exceedingly considerate and deferential to each other, and for years I believed this mode to be the norm among families and saw all other dynamics as an aberration. My best friend from early girlhood was Dena Janaszewski, who lived across the street, and I was constantly shocked by what I perceived to be Dena’s, and really all the Janaszewskis’, crudeness and volume: They hollered to one another from between floors and out windows; they ate off one another’s plates at will, and Dena and her two younger sisters constantly grabbed and poked at one another’s braids and bottoms; they entered the bathroom when it was occupied; and more shocking than the fact that her father once said goddamn in my presence—his exact words, entering the kitchen, were “Who took my goddamn hedge clippers?”—was the fact that neither Dena, her mother, nor her sisters seemed to even notice.

In my own family, life was calm. My mother and father occasionally disagreed—a few times a year he would set his mouth in a firm straight line, or the corners of her eyes would draw down with a kind of wounded disappointment—but it happened infrequently, and when it did, it seemed unnecessary to express aloud. Merely sensing discord, whether in the role of inflictor or recipient, pained them enough.

My father had two mottoes, the first of which was “Fools’ names and fools’ faces often appear in public places.” The second was “Whatever you are, be a good one.” I never knew the source of the first motto, but the second came from Abraham Lincoln. By profession, my father worked as the branch manager of a bank, but his great passion—his hobby, I suppose you’d say, which seems to be a thing not many people have anymore unless you count searching the Internet or talking on cell phones—was bridges. He especially admired the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge and once told me that during its construction, the contractor had arranged, at great expense, for an enormous safety net to run beneath it. “That’s called employer responsibility,” my father said. “He wasn’t just worried about profit.” My father closely followed the building of both the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan—he called it the Mighty Mac—and later, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which, upon completion in 1964, would connect Brooklyn and Staten Island and be the largest suspension bridge in the world.

My parents both had grown up in Milwaukee and met in 1943, when my mother was eighteen and working in a glove factory, and my father was twenty and working at a branch of Wisconsin State Bank & Trust. They struck up a conversation in a soda shop, and were engaged by the time my father enlisted in the army. After the war ended, they married and moved forty-five miles west to Riley, my father’s mother in tow, so he could open a branch of the bank there. My mother never again held a job. As a housewife, she had a light touch—she did not seem overburdened or cranky, she didn’t remind the rest of us how much she did—and yet she sewed many of her own and my clothes, kept the house meticulous, and always prepared our meals. The food we ate was acceptable more often than delicious; she favored pan-broiled steak, or noodle and cheese loafs, and she taught me her recipes in a low-key, literal way, never explaining why I needed to know them. Why wouldn’t I need to know them? She was endlessly patient and a purveyor of small, sweet gestures: Without commenting, she’d leave pretty ribbons or peppermint candies on my bed or, on my bureau, a single flower in a three-inch vase.

My mother was the second youngest of eight siblings, none of whom we saw frequently. She had five brothers and two sisters, and only one of her sisters, my Aunt Marie, who was married to a mechanic and had six children, had ever come to Riley. When my mother’s parents were still alive, we’d drive to visit them in Milwaukee, but they died within ten days of each other when I was six, and after that we’d go years without seeing my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My impression was that their houses all were small and crowded, filled with the squabbling of children and the smell of sour milk, and the men were terse and the women were harried; in a way that was not cruel, none of them appeared to be particularly interested in us. We visited less and less the older I got, and my father’s mother never went along, although she’d ask us to pick up schnecken from her favorite German bakery. In my childhood, there was a relieved feeling that came over me when we drove away from one of my aunt’s or uncle’s houses, a feeling I tried to suppress because I knew even then that it was unchristian. Without anyone in my immediate family saying so, I came to understand that my mother had chosen us; she had chosen our life together over one like her siblings’, and the fact that she’d been able to choose made her lucky.

Like my mother, my grandmother did not hold a job after the move to Riley, but she didn’t really join in the upkeep of the house, either. In retrospect, I’m surprised that her unhelpfulness did not elicit resentment from my mother, but it truly seems that it didn’t. I think my mother found her mother-in-law entertaining, and in a person who entertains us, there is much we forgive. Most afternoons, when I returned home from school, the two of them were in the kitchen, my mother paused between chores with an apron on or a dust rag over her shoulder, listening intently as my grandmother recounted a magazine article she’d just finished about, say, the mysterious murder of a mobster’s girlfriend in Chicago.

My grandmother never vacuumed or swept, and only rarely, if my parents weren’t home or my mother was sick, would she cook, preparing dishes notable mostly for their lack of nutrition: An entire dinner could consist of fried cheese or half-raw pancakes. What my grandmother did do was read; this was the primary way she spent her time. It wasn’t unusual for her to complete a book a day—she preferred novels, especially the Russian masters, but she also read histories, biographies, and pulpy mysteries—and for hours and hours every morning and afternoon, she sat either in the living room or on top of her bed (the bed would be made, and she would be fully dressed), turning pages and smoking Pall Malls. From early on, I understood that the household view of my grandmother, which is to say my parents’ view, was not simply that she was both smart and frivolous but that her smartness and her frivolity were intertwined. That she could tell you all about the curse of the Hope Diamond, or about cannibalism in the Donner Party—it wasn’t that she ought to be ashamed, exactly, to possess such knowledge, but there was no reason for her to be proud of it, either. The tidbits she relayed were interesting, but they had little to do with real life: paying a mortgage, scrubbing a pan, keeping warm in the biting cold of Wisconsin winters.

I’m pretty sure that rather than resisting this less than flattering view of herself, my grandmother shared it. In another era, I imagine she’d have made an excellent book critic for a newspaper, or even an English professor, but she’d never attended college, and neither had my parents. My grandmother’s husband, my father’s father, had died early, and as a young widow, my grandmother had gone to work in a ladies’ dress shop, waiting on Milwaukee matrons who, as she told it, had money but not taste. She’d held this job until the age of fifty—fifty was older then than it is now—at which point she’d moved to Riley with my newlywed parents.

My grandmother borrowed the majority of the books she read from the library, but she bought some, too, and these she kept in her bedroom on a shelf so full that every ledge contained two rows; it reminded me of a girl in my class, Pauline Geisseler, whose adult teeth had grown in before her baby teeth fell out and who would sometimes, with a total lack of self-consciousness, open her mouth for us at recess. My grandmother almost never read aloud to me, but she regularly took me to the library—I read and reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series—and my grandmother often summarized the grown-up books she’d read in tantalizing ways: A well-bred married woman falls in love with a man who is not her husband; after her husband learns of the betrayal, she has no choice but to throw herself in the path of an oncoming train . . .


From the Hardcover edition.
Curtis Sittenfeld|Author Q&A

About Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld - American Wife

Photo © Jerry Bauer

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of American Wife, The Man of My Dreams and Prep, which was chosen by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Allure, Glamour, and on public radio’s This American Life. Her books are being translated into twenty-five languages. Visit her website at www.curtissittenfeld.com.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with the Author

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Time for permission to reprint an interview with Curtis Sittenfeld by Radhika Jones, senior arts editor, Time, copyright © 2008 by Time. Reprinted by permission of Time Inc.

Time: How did this idea come to you?

Curtis Sittenfeld:
Soon after George W. Bush was elected I read a few articles about Laura Bush that made her seem different from what I would have expected. I learned that she’s a big reader, and that she would invite people who had political opinions different from her husband’s to events at the governor’s mansion and then events at the White House. And then I read a biography of her in 2004 by Ann Gerhart called The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush. That reinforced the sense I had that she had led a really complex and interesting life. So I wrote this article for Salon—which I would not have written if I’d known that I would end up writing this book—that was basically about being a liberal who has this weird admiration for Laura Bush. In that article I said that her life resembled a novel. And then two years later it occurred to me, I should write that novel.

It’s clear when you read the book that it’s about the first couple, but it feels equally like a book about relationships and how you fall in love and how your character forms.

I agree one hundred percent. And if I’d wanted to write a book that was a hatchet job on Laura Bush—if that was my big goal—I could have made it two hundred pages. But I wanted to explore the human heart much more than I wanted to explore politics. Some people have said to me, Why did you not write more about Charlie Blackwell’s political ascension and his becoming governor, and the campaign, and I feel like there are excellent books out there on political campaigns and mine wouldn’t add anything to the mix. There are so many people who are so much better qualified to write about politics than I am.

I understand that plot is very important to you; you have literary concerns but you also want to keep people turning the pages. And that happens in American Wife. But in this case, unlike your earlier novels, many of the elements of the plot came to you ready-made. Did that affect the way you worked?

The book has four sections, and in each section there’s a major plot twist that has a strong resemblance to an event in the real life of Laura Bush. But then everything else is made up. There’s a chapter where
Charlie Blackwell is drinking heavily, and he buys the baseball team and gives up drinking and finds religion, and obviously those have George Bush parallels. But there’s all this other stuff that has to do with a Princeton reunion, and Alice Blackwell’s sister-in-law having doubts about her own marriage. So even in the sections that borrow most heavily from real life, almost everything is made up. And of course, literally, every scene is made up—because even if we all know that there’s a point when George Bush became religious, I sure wasn’t there!

How long ago did you start working on it?

It’s been two years in the making. When I was writing my first two books I was also freelancing and teaching and doing other odd jobs. For this one I pretty much just wrote. And I wrote much longer hours
than I had in the past. I worked more intensively on this book than I plan to for any future book. I don’t think I’ll have another book for four or five years, and that’s fine with me. In some ways I think it would be very dignified if I went away for twenty years and then wrote my fourth book.

Can you describe the research you did? You mentioned The Perfect Wife.

That was my biggest influence, and that’s the book I recommend to people. If someone says, Oh, American Wife makes me curious to learn more about Laura Bush, I would definitely urge them to read Ann Gerhart. I read another biography of Laura Bush by Ronald Kessler. I read a book by Frank Bruni called Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush about Bush’s first presidential campaign. I read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s autobiography, which I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. I read a book called For Love of Politics: Inside the Clinton White House by Sally Bedell Smith. I interviewed some people who worked in the White House. Because the book takes place primarily in Wisconsin, I ordered 1960s Wisconsin yearbooks off eBay, and I interviewed people from Wisconsin. For the Princeton stuff I talked to Princeton librarians. And I interviewed friends and family members who I thought had expertise on any topic that might be relevant to the book.

How about the sex in the book? I was reminded of something you said about Prep, that it might not be your parents’ cup of tea for various reasons, and the graphic sex was part of that. It’s
quite a visual, the sex in American Wife.

Actually, for Christmas last year I gave my parents a special copy of the book that had all the sex scenes cut out. Then when some of the sex scenes were put up by websites in July—which was very misrepresentative of the book—my dad stumbled upon them and I basically said, You know, I tried to protect you from that, and if you sought it out on your own, that has to be your concern, not mine. I mean, the book is about a thirty-year marriage, so of course there’s sex.

And realistically, there’s less of it as it goes on.

Exactly. And I know the distinction is hard for people to make, but I do not feel like I wrote a novel about Laura and George Bush. I feel like I read things about them that inspired me to create fictional characters, and then these fictional characters lead their own lives and have their own interactions. So this is not a book about Laura Bush’s sex life.

I’ve read that you didn’t expect Prep to get the kind of reception that it did. But American Wife was coming into an environment where it would get a lot of attention precisely because it is so relevant. Was the run-up to publication different? Did it feel different as you were writing?

To me the question when I was writing was, one, will I finish it, ever? That’s a question that a lot of novelists ask themselves while writing. And, two, will I feel like it’s good enough that I’ll want it to be published? Those were the questions I was focused on. The fact is that in this day and age I don’t think any novelist can assume that a book will get attention. There are books that have pretty provocative subjects that disappear without a trace. I would say that already it’s gotten more attention than I anticipated. At the same time I think it’s probably the most commercial book that I’ll ever write. It has the most obvious hook of any book that I’ll write.

Praise

Praise

“A well-researched book that imagines what lies behind that placid façade of the first lady…Ms. Sittenfeld was not out to sensationalize but to sympathize.
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times

“Brilliant…[A] triumph…Curtis Sittenfeld has provided a plausible secret history of an American embarrassment – and a grand entertainment.”
Joe Klein, Time Magazine

“A smart and sophisticated portrait of a high-profile political wife…Sittenfeld has an astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads.”
Connie Schultz,Washington Post Book World

“Sittenfeld boldly imagines the inner life of a first lady…an intimate and daring story…American Wife is a vicarious experience, an up-close portrait of the interior life of a very complicated woman…cinematic.”
–USA Today

“The novel, Sittenfeld’s most fully realized yet, artfully evokes the painful reverberations of the past.”
–New Yorker

“Compelling...enormously sympathetic...Sittenfeld’s remarkable gifts as a storyteller draw you back into the fictional world of Alice Blackwell. She writes in the sharp, realistic tradition of Philip Roth and Richard Ford–clear, unpretentious prose; metaphors so spot-on you barely notice them. Sittenfeld may have lifted the set pieces from a real woman’s life, but in the process she has created a wise and insightful character who is entirely her own.”
–Time Out New York

“Ambitious…Sittenfeld installs herself deep within the psyche of the tight-lipped wife of the president and emerges with an evenhanded, compassionate look at her mind and heart…powerfully intimate. Grade: A”
–Washington Post

“A masterful highbrow-lowbrow mash-up that satisfies as ass-kicking literary fiction
and juicy gossip simultaneously.”
–Radar

“With American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld has deftly crossed an extraordinarily high wire…I read American Wife in just two or three delicious sittings, struck by the granular clarity of the author’s descriptions and the down-to-earth believability of the story, bewitched by the charming, frustrating woman at the center of it: Laura Bush.”
— Ana Marie Cox, The New York Observer

“Curtis Sittenfeld is one of our best contemporary chroniclers of class and caste… Sittenfeld imagines this couple so deliciously and so plausibly… Curtis Sittenfeld invents a deep, messy, sympathetic life for a public person whose surface is all we'll ever know.”
— St Petersburg Times

“Immensely readable. It's a nuanced portrait of a woman in a singularly fascinating position.”
— Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A broad, deep and utterly convincing account…a portrait of a woman and a marriage that also brings the reader as close to the probable essence of the outgoing president as any other novelist, or any biographer, is likely to get.”
— Portland Oregonian

“We love Sittenfeld. We love her wry, razor-sharp observations. We love her funny, straightforward honesty…[American Wife] is an empathetic, fascinating, and gorgeously written story about a 30-year marriage. We devoured it in one night.”
— Boston Magazine

“Endearing and poignant, humorous and enlightening, American Wife is a must-read for Sittenfeld fans--and a good first read for would-be converts.”
— Fredericksburg Freelance Star

“An entertaining, racy tale that's inspired more than a bit by the life of our current president's wife, Laura Bush…A well-told tale that will leave many readers wondering: How much of Sittenfeld's story might be closer to fact than fiction?”
— St Louis Post Dispatch

“The scope and detail of American Wife are reminiscent of Richard Russo. Like Russo, she creates characters from the ground up, ancestry, neighborhood, culture and all.”
–LA Times

American Wife  promises to be another sensation.”
- Dayton Daily News

American Wife is a sparkling, sprawling novel…A ridiculously gifted writer…Sittenfeld has harnessed her talents perfectly in American Wife, producing an exhilirating epic infused with humor, pain, and hope.”
–BookPage

“Widely anticipated and vastly entertaining… An intelligent, well-crafted, psychologically astute novel”
–New York Sun

“Highly engaging…fascinating depth.”
— Seattle Times

“A well-researched, juicy roman a clef about the current first lady.”
— Boston Globe

“Ambitious…entertaining…a parable of America in the years of the second Bush presidency.”
Joyce Carol Oates, cover of The New York Times Book Review

“With her first line - “Have I made terrible mistakes?” - Alice Blackwell (a fictional First Lady modeled after Laura Bush) reels us into a gripping epic of public and private lives. A gem.”
–Good Housekeeping

“This searing page-turner will make you wonder what unspoken promises lie behind the victory smiles of any power couple.”
- Redbook

“What is Laura Bush thinking? That’s the question Sittenfeld ponders in her novel,
loosely based on the life of our First Lady…Just as she did in Prep, Sittenfeld masterfully deflates
the middle-class fairy tale — rose gardens and all.”
–Marie Claire

“Bold…conveys in convincing, thoroughly riveting detail a life far more complicated than it appears on the surface…What she does here, in prose as winning as it is confident, is to craft out of the first-person narration a compelling, very human voice, one full of kindness and decency. And, as if making the Bush-like couple entirely sympathetic is not enough of a feat in itself, she also provides many rich insights into the emotional ebb and flow of a long-term marriage.”
–Booklist, Upfront and Starred review

“Terrific . . . an intelligent, bighearted novel about a controversial political dynasty.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“Remarkable . . . American Wife is about the long history of a marriage, and . . . the way we make decisions when we’re young that have consequences we couldn’t have anticipated. . . . Sittenfeld’s most ambitious and impressive work to date.”
Chicago Tribune
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. The novel opens and closes with Alice wondering if she’s made terrible mistakes. Do you think she has? If so, what are they?

2. Alice’s grandmother passes down her love of reading. How else is Alice influenced by her grandmother?

3. Why does Andrew remain such an important figure to Alice, even decades later? Do you think they would have ended up together under different circumstances?

4. To what do you attribute Dena’s anger at what she calls Alice’s betrayal? Do you believe her anger is justified?

5. Is Charlie a likable character? Can you understand Alice’s attraction to him?

6. Does Alice compromise herself and her ideals during her marriage, or does she realistically alter her behavior and expectations in order to preserve the most important relationship in her life?

7. Were you surprised by the scene between Alice and Joe at the Princeton reunion? Why do you think it happened?

8. What would you have done in Alice’s situation at the end of the novel? Do you think it was wrong of her to take the stance she did?

9. How do you think Laura Bush would react to this novel if she read it?


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