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American Wife [Paperback]

Curtis Sittenfeld
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
RRP: £7.99
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Book Description

2 July 2009

In the year 2000, in the closest election in American history, Alice Blackwell's husband becomes president of the United States. Their time in the White House proves to be heady, tumultuous, and controversial.

But it is Alice's own story - that of a kind, bookish, only child born in the 1940s Midwest who comes to inhabit a life of dizzying wealth and power - that is itself remarkable. Alice candidly describes her small-town upbringing, and the tragedy that shaped her identity; she recalls her early adulthood as a librarian, and her surprising courtship with the man who swept her off her feet; she tells of the crisis that almost ended their marriage; and she confides the privileges and difficulties of being first lady, a role that is uniquely cloistered and public, secretive and exposed.

In Alice Blackwell, Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is not a novel about politics. It is a gorgeously written novel that weaves race, class, fate and wealth into a brilliant tapestry. It is a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.

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Frequently Bought Together

American Wife + Prep + The Man of My Dreams
Price For All Three: £18.77

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  • Prep £6.39
  • The Man of My Dreams £6.39

Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; Later Printing edition (2 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552775541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552775540
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the bestselling novels Prep and The Man of My Dreams. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Product Description


"A quietly riveting parable... thought-provoking, entertaining and full of subtle reflections on class and marriage" (Daily Mail)

"Thoroughly enjoyable. The plot is beautifully paced, the writing quick, clear, absorbing... A sweeping saga" (The Times)

"A powerful, utterly compelling and strangely moving fictional account of a First Lady who bears more than a passing resemblance to Laura Bush" (Daily Mirror)

"Such an accomplished work of fiction... a thoughtful and compelling examination of the mechanics of family and marriage... Knowing and knowledgeable, yet also inventive and original, American Wife is a thrilling combination of history and surprises" (Guardian)

"My favourite book of the year" (Kate Atkinson)


I was utterly absorbed in this story of a political marriage and a wife who has her own reasons. Curtis Sittenfeld has thrown a powerful light on small town America and its misunderstood values --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
As someone with no great interest in American politics I was a little dubious when this book was recommended to me. What a pleasant surprise. I found it utterly compelling and difficult to put down. The politics are the backdrop to what is, in effect, a moving account of an ordinary woman's life, her struggles with issues large and small and the great joy she finds in those aspects of her life that most women will identify with - her family and friends. I don't want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that it covers family, friendships, love, death, addiction, relationships, career, children, religion, politics and the struggle to find a way to stay true to yourself. I have no idea how factual the book is but to me that doesn't matter. As a story of an ordinary woman it is beautifully written and utterly believable. Highly recommended.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Go There 6 Aug 2009
This is a brilliant novel, spolied as so many reviewers here point out by a lame ending. I first came across Curtis Sittenfeld as the author of 'Prep', a clever, insightful, clearly autobiographical account of a girl's education (her name is Lee) at an American prep school. 'Man of My Dreams', the short novel which followed, is a bit of a disappointment, not because it isn't good, but because it offers very little in the way of an advance on 'Prep' -- basically it is Lee Goes to College. 'American Wife' is Sittenfeld's breakthrough novel, and this is very much the step forward I was hoping for. The autobiographical note has been left behind -- the narrator of 'American Wife' (forget Laura Bush, if you can) is a person in her own right, with experiences and observations that always ring true. Even the passages describing her sex life with Charlie seem right and justifiable, despite the image of 'W' which for some readers will be forever lurking in the undergrowth. The last part of the book, however, is clearly a mistake. Describing life at the White House carries Sittenfeld only too predictably into the territory mapped out by tv shows like 'The West Wing'. It can't be done -- not well, at any rate -- and wasn't in fact necessary. Everything she wanted to say about politics and family and compromise and idealism and money and privilege in American life was there already. It is as if Jane Austen had attempted to write a sequel to P & P in which Darcy became prime minister. You'd read it, but you'd wish she hadn't done it. Read 'American Wife' for the first three-quarters, and forgive the rest. All criticisms aside, I am eagerly awaiting her next book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of parts 27 July 2009
By Elka
A very well written enjoyable book all the more interesting as it is loosely based on the life of now ex-First Lady Laura Bush. I really loved and whizzed through the first 3 parts of this book, but in the final part set in the White House the characters did seem to get a little lost amongst the larger events and Alice's justifications for setting aside her own beliefs to support her husbands presidency.
On a personal note I did struggle with some of the more romantic/sexual scenes, I'm no prude by any stretch of the imagination but the image of George Bush bounding around naked in bed was sometimes a bit too much for me :)
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and intelligent novel 23 Oct 2008
I confess I'm a bit of a geek about American politics, and I've always been strangely fascinated by the presidency of George W. Bush. However, it has to be said that I know next to nothing about the life of Laura Bush, and although this is obviously a fictional account it is an absolutely fascinating attempt to imagine some of the trials and pressures that she must have gone through.

This riveting book follows Alice's progress as her worries escalate from the common everyday problems of love and family, to the grand scale of questioning if she may somehow be culpable in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The way it manages to turn the near baffling question of "how could anyone be married to that man?" around to make us all question the society that gave him power in the first place is masterful.

I also think that through the character of Charlie Blackwell, Sittenfeld really helps us get to the heart of what George W Bush is really about. She understands that whilst in many ways he is a monstrous man, the key to his success is the fact that he is in many ways so personable and charming, and that despite what we may think of his politics that he honestly believes he is doing the right thing. It would have been so easy for this book to resort to cheap caricature or mindless Bush-bashing, and the fact that it is in many ways so restrained is what makes it such a great novel.

There have been so many books written on the Bush administration, and there are doubtless dozens more to come after he leaves office. But for me this is a near perfect first book to reflect back on this insane period of history we have all been living through, and truly one of the books of the year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Julia Flyte TOP 100 REVIEWER
American Wife is a novel "inspired" by the life of Laura Bush. The idea that you could be reading her thoughts is enticing. Throughout her time in the White House, Ms Bush has given very little away about her personal beliefs or background, and Sittenfeld uses that blank canvas as the inspiration for Alice's character and story. The book succeeds because the narrative is so honest and compelling. Alice's character feels incredibly real - as do all of the characters.

However the plot follows the known facts about Bush's life and her husband's presidency so closely that it becomes distracting. I didn't need so many elements to be identical to actual events: the terrorist attacks in September 2001, the details of the election, the description of the Clintons. It felt like Sittenfeld couldn't quite decide if she was writing a novel or a fictionalized version of actual events. It's a fine line, because ultimately the book succeeds because you like to imagine it's true - or could be true.

The book is narrated by Alice Blackwell. She is the wife of Charlie Blackwell, who was narrowly elected President in 2000. It's written in four sections: the first when she is at school, the second in her early 30s, the third several years later and finally in the White House with her husband now President. One of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the novel for me was the fact that the third section ends when Charlie has just avowed to give up drinking and still has no intentions to enter politics. (This is well after the 400 page mark). Charlie's conversion from alcoholic to born-again Christian and politician are never really explained, which is to the book's detriment.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent all round - service & book description
Published 12 days ago by Janet Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Good story - well written
She is an excellent writer and creates convincing characters plus a compelling story. I haven't finished it yet - and am reading it whenever I get the chance!
Published 21 days ago by grandma J
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing portrayal of a fascinating life but not a set of characters...
3.5 stars. It's a hard one to rate. I had the audio version and while I kept listening I can't really out my finger on - why? Read more
Published 25 days ago by K. J. Noyes
5.0 out of 5 stars I thoroughly enjoyed this novel
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It's a thinly disguised biography of Laura Bush but I didn't guess this till half way through the book, just read it as a straight novel. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Susan Osborne,Lance Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars I came to this book with no prior knowledge that ...
I came to this book with no prior knowledge that it is loosely based on Laura Bush which might have put me off. Thank goodness I picked it up- a compelling read.
Published 1 month ago by Fionn Woods
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor
Dreary, and repetitive
Published 2 months ago by B. Page
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this novel
I really enjoyed this novel, much more than I thought I would. It gives a fascinating insight into what it might be like to become First Lady, as well as just a good story about... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lilac Hell
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I enjoyed reading this book. A good story and perhaps an insight into life in the upper echelons of American life.
Published 2 months ago by Lynne Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars The american Wife
The stdory fell into two parts for me.The first part was easy reading and enjoyable. The second part seems to be aa fiction version of the world of politics. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nanshirl
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting and compelling read
Recommended by a friend and I was not disappointed. Clear characters and believable storyline. The author managed an immediate empathy with the heroine. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Alison Gray
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