This past weekend I finally finished American Wife and felt inspired to write a review as it was a very thought-provoking book. If you haven’t read it before and plan to do so, then read no further.

I was skeptical picking up AW at first because I really didn’t like Prep, also written by Curtis Sittenfield, but I wanted to be open-minded and the story seemed much more interesting. President Bush’s terms began at a time when I was becoming more aware of what was happening in our country so learning about what happened in the eight years he was in office has been a recent interest of mine (although I am aware AW is purely “fictional” but considered to be loosely based on the life of Laura Bush as the author has said).

Anyway, the story starts out with Alice Lindgren, an only child with a simple life until she is in a car accident at 17, which kills a high-school classmate. (I had to re-read this part like 3 times; I couldn’t believe it.) Then not long after, she becomes pregnant with her deceased classmate’s brother’s baby. Then she gets an abortion from her grandmother’s “secret” girlfriend. (This is all in the first third of the book. I was emotionally worn out.)

  • If you’ve read it, what did you think of the quick turn of events?
  • Why do you think she turned to Pete and was so careless?

Alice eventually meets Charlie when she is in her late twenties while she is working at an elementary school as a librarian. He is basically her opposite: outspoken, charismatic, confident, Republican, etc. Yet Alice is extremely happy with him and they quickly fall in love and get engaged despite Charlie’s desire to be in politics and Alice’s Democratic views. A few years and one child into their marriage, Charlie’s reckless behavior begins to negatively affect their relationship and Alice eventually leaves for about a month to get space and consider her options. While she’s gone, Charlie gets a DUI, becomes a “born again” Christian and basically gets his life back on the right path, which unexpectedly leads to the White House.

  • I thought the parts in Halcyon were really interesting, especially the Blackwell family dynamic (apparently inspired by the Kennedy’s)
  • Did you think Alice should have gone back to Charlie? Although I was glad they made their marriage work, some of the things Charlie said to her made me sick and I couldn’t figure out what I would do in that situation.

Throughout the entire book, Alice is narrating from the present where Charlie is president of the United States in his second term. Once we catch up to present day, it details one day’s events from the moment Alice and Charlie wake up to when they go to bed. This was my favorite section of the book. Alice brings you up to speed on what led them to the White House and what their life is like being the President and First Lady of the United States. The details are really fascinating and it’s interesting how a lot of the characters throughout her life play a role in this particular day.

  • Did you agree with Alice’s actions at the end of the book? Should she have kept her mouth shut?
  • Was Alice’s guilt justified?
  • When Pete gave her the necklace back, how did you think that gave her “her heart”?
  • I thought it was particularly interesting reading the part about the recount and when Charlie said to Alice that he “dodged a bullet.”

Sittenfield does admit that while AW is “loosely inspired” by Laura Bush, she “invented” 85% of the story because as she said, “There is so much we can’t know even about these very visible politicians or [their] spouses so I started with something real but then [I did] invent and invent and invent…”

The author’s political standpoint is pretty apparent throughout the book but it didn’t bother me because now I am interested to read Laura Bush’s book, Spoken From the Heart, and already have requested it from the library.

I’d like to do more book reviews based on how this one goes so if you have read American Wife, answer some of the discussion questions or feel free to post your own!