How would Hillary Rodham ’s life—and our world—be different if she had never married Bill Clinton?In American Wife (2008), Sittenfeld imagined her way into Laura Bush’s head in the guise of a character named Alice Blackwell. In her new novel, she doesn’t bother to change the protagonists’ names, and we’re introduced to Hillary Rodham as she’s about to give her famous Wellesley College graduation speech and has an intimation of her “own singular future.” She goes to Yale, meets a charismatic former Rhodes Scholar, falls in love, catches him cheating on her, and follows him to Arkansas anyway. They try to come up with ways to tame Bill’s libido: “Maybe—what if—if I wanted it and you didn’t,” he asks her, “would you think it was disgusting if I laid next to you and touched myself?” That works for her. “Mapping out the future, coming up with strategies and plans—these were things we were good at,” she thinks. But then she decides not to marry him, and the history of the United States goes off in a different direction. The captivating thing about American Wife was imagining an inner life for Laura Bush, a First Lady who was something of a cipher, and in particular imagining that her politics were different from her husband’s. Sittenfeld sets herself an opposite task in this book, creating an interior world for a woman everyone thinks they know. This Hillary tracks with the real person who’s been living in public all these years, and it’s enjoyable to hear her think about her own desires, her strengths and weaknesses, her vulnerabilities and self-justifications; it’s also fun to see how familiar events would still occur under different circumstances. (Watch what happens when Bill Clinton appears on 60 Minutes with a less-astute wife at his side.) But there isn't much here that will surprise you.Pleasurable wish fulfillment for Hillary fans. (Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2020).
/* Starred Review */ Though camouflaged, Sittenfeld's American Wife (2008) is a bold and empathic reimagining of the life of First Lady Laura Bush. Sittenfeld’s avidly anticipated new novel, Rodham, mines a similar vein, though it is more daring, seductive, and provocative. Commandingly narrated by one Hillary Rodham, and laced with true-to-life figures and facts, this exhilaratingly trenchant, funny, and affecting tale nonetheless pivots smartly away from reality. Yes, Hillary and Bill Clinton, two brainy and ambitious Yale law students, fall passionately in love, and, yes, she accompanies him to Arkansas, where everyone finds her intellect, professional commitments, and no-frills style alarming and offensive. Hillary revels in Bill’s charisma and drive, the sex is ecstatic, and she finally agrees to marry him, until his chronic infidelity convinces this disciplined social-justice warrior to walk away. With this split, Sittenfeld creates a vibrant and consequential alternative life for Hillary, rendered with shrewd and magnetizing specificity as the author dramatizes the sexism petty and threatening that Hillary confronts at every turn, while also offering unusual insights into the difficult-to-balance quests for racial and gender equality. As she envisions her Hillary's demanding and ascendant career, crucial relationships, and political quests that reel Bill back into her sphere, Sittenfeld orchestrates a gloriously cathartic antidote to the actual struggles women presidential candidates face in a caustically divided America. -- Donna Seaman (Reviewed 4/15/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 16, p15).
In this entertaining political fantasy, Sittenfeld (Eligible) imagines Hillary Clinton’s personal and professional life if she and Bill had gone their separate ways instead of marrying. The novel begins with an intimate perspective on historical events: At Wellesley’s 1969 graduation, Hillary feels the exhilaration of speaking her mind in public. Two years later, she meets Bill at Yale Law School. He is handsome, larger than life, proud of his Arkansas roots. She is ambitious, smart, hardworking, and opinionated. They fall in love and discuss marriage, but break up because of Bill’s philandering. Bill runs for president in 1992 but drops out of the race. Hillary, meanwhile, is a year into her first term as senator from Illinois. When she runs for president, in 2016, Bill is one of three primary challengers. Scenes with cameos from Donald Trump prove livelier than familiar elements like Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies, which she brings to a Yale potluck. Still, Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure (“The feeling was in the collapse, the simultaneity, of how I seemed to others and who I really was”) Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if. (May) --Staff (Reviewed 03/30/2020) (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 13, p).