Author Curtis Sittenfeld introduces us to Alice Lindgren, a considerate and studious child born to somewhat apathetic parents in a small Wisconsin town. Alice is shy and quiet, enjoying living her life as an observer more than a participant. However, Alice’s quiet life and “normal” teenage years are shattered when she is involved in a tragic accident that kills another student. The event leaves Alice questioning who she is and how life can turn on a dime. During this difficult time, Alice shows inner strength as she puts her life back together as best she can and goes on to become a school librarian with hopes of a normal life. It is years later when Alice, a registered Democrat, first meets Charlie Blackwell. Blackwell, who she at first doesn’t give the time of day, is a captivating and rowdy Republican from a wealthy family.
At this point, if the reader is not already thinking that this is a familiar story, I would be surprised. Sittenfeld has noted that she did draw on some major events in the early life of Laura Bush, but only as a framework for her fictional story. Readers can put aside any personal political feelings and read as the life of Alice Lindgren changes forever as she is drawn into the political world of Charlie Blackwell.
At first, Alice finds Charlie to be rather obnoxious and much too cavalier for her quiet, staid lifestyle. But something happens, much to Alice’s surprise: she finds herself fascinated by this man. Suddenly, she is falling in love with Charlie Blackwell and swept off her feet. Their courtship and subsequent engagement is a whirlwind that catches up the reader as well as Alice. Alice and Charlie are married, and we begin to see signs this might not be a fairy tale marriage after all. What has Alice gotten herself into?
Alice slowly makes her way into the world of the tight-knit Blackwell family and their summer homes, club life, and conservative religious background. She questions if she really knew what she’s doing with a man whose political and social beliefs go against her own more liberal ideals. Alice is uncomfortable both with this lifestyle and what all the money brings to their marriage. However, Alice is dedicated to Charlie and supports him through some tough times that include alcoholism, only to be followed by his getting involved with politics by becoming the Wisconsin governor. Before Alice can blink, she is on the way to becoming the First Lady of the United States as Charlie is elected President.
Alice suddenly has responsibility, authority, even power that she never asked for. Charlie leads the country into an unpopular war yet is nonetheless reelected to a second term. Alice starts to face the years she has spent disagreeing with her husband on so much while still loving him. How can that be, she asks herself? Has her own life been so weak that she has followed and lost all that is left of her self? What if she does decide to show her true feelings and beliefs to Charlie and the country? What has become of Alice Lindgren - and can she find herself again in Alice Blackwell? Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife is a tantalizing page-turner that also allows for comparisons to real-life politics at their best - or perhaps their worst.