RoadTrip America

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American Wife: A Novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld (Read by Kimberly Farr)


From the moment her grandmother mistakenly calls Alice Lindgren's 8 year old boyfriend a girl, to the days of her bumbling husband's presidency, Alice knows the pain and embarrassment of defending blundering loved ones. Born in 1946, Alice grows up in the social, political and economic cocoon of the fifties. It isn't until her senior year, when she runs a stop sign and causes a fatal accident, that Alice's world loses its innocence. Not only is she devastated by her complicity in causing the death of another, she finds herself in need of an illegal abortion. Becoming first an elementary teacher and then a librarian, Alice finds solace and contentment in reading to herself and others. While her friends marry and start families, Alice is 31 before she meets Charlie Blackwell, the man who would become her husband and who would later become President of the United States.

Undoubtedly, Alice Lindgren Blackwell's life bears a remarkable similarity to First Lady Laura Bush's. Curtis Sittenfeld's fictionalized version of Laura Bush's life to date includes enough factual information to make the audio book tantalizing. Certain events, such as the fatal traffic accident, are widely known to have occurred in Mrs. Bush's history, but Sittenfeld has generously supplemented the truth with supposition and imagination. The character of Charlie Blackwell is a fun-loving, handsome son of a wealthy elected official, but his drinking and buffoonery make him an unlikely choice for political office. Even his own brothers are relieved when he quits the family business to pursue other interests. The Republican Party sees his vote-getting potential, though, and shepherds him into The White House. Alice is once again forced to apologize (as least in her own mind) for the embarrassment caused by someone she loves. In an imagined conversation with the American public, after one of Charlie's blunders, she muses, "All I did was marry him. You are the ones who gave him power."

Alice Lindgren Blackwell maintains the same kind of serene calm that we witness in Laura Bush. Even after spending years in the public eye, her youthful dreams and demons continue to dominate her thoughts and actions and in preserving them, she remains a private person in the midst of celebrity. Only First Lady Laura Bush and her closest friends and family know how accurately Sittenfeld has portrayed her, but listeners with even a tiny interest in gossip will have fun trying to figure it out. Even without the voyeuristic appeal of the subject, this is a captivating book with a strong, admirable heroine who emerges from the innocence of the fifties to survive the sixties and seventies and goes on to thrive in the ensuing decades.

Ruth Mormon
11/28/06

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