I’m not quite halfway through listening to Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife and I’m enjoying it immensely, but I’m also finding it to be a really odd emotional experience. I’m enjoying it so much I’m tempted to get the audiobook out of the car and listen to it in the house, which is something I never, ever do. I’m caught up in Alice Lindgren’s voice, her thoughtful, careful, smart way of thinking about everything that happens to her.
The weird emotional experience part began when Alice met Charlie Blackwell, whom she has not yet married, but has become engaged to. Remember how this is the book that’s really about Laura Bush, even though the names and some of the circumstances are changed? That makes Charlie Blackwell George Bush, although his family is from Wisconsin, not from Texas. And reading about Charlie Blackwell/George Bush as a romantic lead has been bizarre.
It’s probably no surprise that I’m anything but a George Bush fan — I can’t stand the man, in fact. And yet in the context of this book, he’s … well, obnoxious quite a lot, but also sometimes charming. And every time I think he does something even a little bit charming, I have this moment where I think, ew! That’s George Bush! Ew! He’s awful, not charming in the least!
And yet in the context of the book, it makes sense that Alice is attracted to him. He is a lot of things that she is not — outgoing, confident, determined, at ease with people — and they make a good pair in some ways. And I like Alice a lot. In fact, she is in some ways kind of like me, or at least I feel some kinship with her. Her way of thinking and acting is familiar to me. But … she married George Bush! Ew!
There are lots of moments where Charlie/George does something utterly obnoxious such as order Alice around, get mad at her if she isn’t politically supportive enough, or assume she’s going to drop her career for his sake, and then I have fun getting annoyed and yelling at him for being the jerk that he is. But then they make up, and I understand that Alice is happy once again, and that’s a good thing, because I like Alice, but it means she’s happy with George Bush. Ick! And then there are the sex scenes, which are the weirdest of all …
This book has been an interesting imaginative exercise, as it makes me think about how someone I like could be attracted to someone I most definitely don’t, and how the person I most definitely don’t like can sometimes be likable. And also how a sometimes likable person is capable of doing awful things, like start the Iraq war. I’m very curious to see what Sittenfeld does with the rest of the story; the couple isn’t even married yet and the presidency is way off in the future.