American Wife

It’s finally time to discuss American Wife, the book we selected to read back in October. I’ve been anxious to talk about this book ever since I finished it and am glad November 15 is here so we can discuss!

Like the last PBF Book Club post I did, the first part of this post will be my review, followed by several discussion questions. Feel free to post your own review (I love reading them!) and answer any or all of the discussion questions in the comments section.

My Review

When this book came out on top of the poll for the October book club selection, I must admit I wasn’t too pumped. Though it sounded decent, I was pulling for Unbroken and wasn’t sure American Wife was going to be a book I would enjoy.

When I learned that the book is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush, the former first lady of the United States,  I became much more intrigued.

The book follows the life of Alice Lindgren, a bright, well-mannered girl growing up in Wisconsin in the 1940s. Alice’s life is simple until she is involved in a serious accident in high school that leaves her devastated and unsure how to cope and recover. Throughout the grieving process she makes some interesting decisions that were unexpected. Her actions kept me as a reader interested to see how Alice’s life would evolve and how she would continue to cope with this tragic event in her adult life.

Alice grows up to be a librarian and in her late 20s meets a boisterous man named Charlie Blackwell who is handsome, charismatic and republican and comes from a well known, wealthy family.  Alice, a democrat, doesn’t think much of Charlie at first, but eventually falls for his magnetic personality and the two are married within a few short months of meeting. Eventually Charlie’s career leads them to the White House.

American Wife is told from Alice’s perspective and I really enjoyed her character. I found Alice thoughtful, likable and intelligent. As for the parallels between Alice and Laura Bush, I kept wondering which parts of the book were truly fictional and which were real, which was a bit distracting but also quite intriguing. (The accident was real. Her grandmother was not a lesbian, though she does support gay marriage and abortion, as the book states.)

I found the relationship between Alice and Charlie very interesting to read about, as the author did a great job of showcasing a marriage that was intense, passionate and loving, but not without serious fights and difficult times. I liked how the author didn’t sugarcoat their relationship and yet still made me root for them to work things out and continue to be together. (If you read the book, did you want them to stay together?)

Perhaps my favorite part of the book came toward the end when the author wrote about fame and how Alice and Charlie handled the intense scrutiny over their lives. It made me wonder how many famous people really want to be famous or just happened to become famous because the career they most desired thrust them into fame or they fell in love with someone famous. It was interesting to think about the real people behind the public personas.

I cannot conclude my review without mentioning one of my favorite characters, Alice’s grandmother. I was intrigued by her evolving relationship with Alice and her sassy personality made her a favorite of mine from the beginning. Plus, I adored their shared love of reading.

Discussion Questions

  1. Did your perspective on fame change while reading American Wife? Would you ever want to be famous? Did reading this book alter these desires in any way?
  2. Does Alice compromise herself and her ideals during her marriage, or does she realistically alter her behavior and expectations in order to preserve the most important relationship in her life?
  3. What would you have done in Alice’s situation at the end of the novel? Do you think she was wrong to take the stance that she did?
  4. Did you think Charlie Blackwell was a likable character? Can you understand Alice’s attraction to him?

Comments

  1. says

    I really enjoyed this book and actually did not know it was based on the Bushes until I reached the presidency chapter (and my mother-in-law told me). I felt that Alice’s character was incredibly relatable, and the majority of her actions were those that I could picture myself making. She was open from the beginning with regard to her views, but stood by her promise to publicly support Charlie’s decisions. When she strayed from this promise at the end of the book, I really felt for her – she wanted to stand up for her beliefs while also supporting her husband, but I think she stayed true to her character by making the decision that she did.

    With regard to your fame question, I honestly walked away from the book feeling sorry for Charlie (and, in turn, George W). It seemed that, while it’s true that he was focused on his “legacy”, he was almost pushed into the presidency and, therefore, the more extreme world of being famous. I don’t know if the book was slanted in order to give the reader this impression, but I truly wished, for both of them, that they had just stuck with the baseball team. I’ve never had the inclination to become “famous”, and reading perspectives such as this one just confirm that feeling.

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  2. says

    I’m not in your bookclub, but you know I’ve been a follower of PBF for a long time, so I always see what you are reading.

    Can I just say I pretty much read every book you recommend and love them? Up next on my list is Unbroken and this one. Can’t wait!

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  3. says

    I don’t think that Alice really compromised her beliefs and ideals by being married to Charlie. Throughout his campaign and presidency she is supportive without being vocal and when she is asked about controversial topics like abortion she tells the truth about her feelings about it.

    One thing that bothered me about Alice was her obsession with Andrew Imhoff. I understand that it was a huge event in her life but I was frustrated how, even after being married to Charlie for 20+ years, she insisted that Andrew was her true love.Charlie was alive and loved her with all his heart yet she would have traded him for Andrew in a second if he hadn’t died.

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  4. says

    I’m only half way through the book but, like you, it’s driving me mad that I don’t know which parts are fiction or nonfiction! It’s a good read though.

    I few months ago, I saw and said hi to Laura Bush while she was walking down the street and my gosh, she is just so stunning and so classy in real life.

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  5. Erin says

    I loved this book and I love being a part of a book club! It is so nice to read all the reviews and comments. Can’t wait for the next book!

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  6. maria @ a life to bragg about says

    Your review makes me want to read this badly now! I actually adore Laura Bush, I think she’s such a classy lady 🙂

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  7. says

    Ok, so I know I’m way late, but i JUST finished this book… like 10 minutes ago at my desk haha!

    I really enjoyed the book a lot… I wasn’t aware at first that it was based on Laura Bush’s life until i read about the accident.. then i knew.

    This book didnt change my perspective on fame so much..i could’ve guessed it can be awful under all the scrutiny, but it was interesting and enlightening to hear first hand accounts… (must remember this is fiction LOL) .

    I’m really interested in reading Laura Bush’s autio biography now.

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  8. Aoife says

    This book was recently given to me with the promise that it was a page turner with great descriptive passages. And, yes, it was.
    Until I got to the last third of the book. At this point, I began to feel the self-importance and martyrdom of the narrator overpowering, and my pleasure was diminished as I ploughed on in the hope that our ‘heroine’ would reach an epiphany or, failing that, would get her comeupance. The success of the initial stages of the book, to my mind, is due to the fact that we are treated to insightful descriptions of the characters we encounter. We, as readers, are under no illusions regarding the character of Charlie- from the outset. he comes across as a confident, energetic, and supremely cosseted and privileged individual.
    Let us not. as readers, forget that both Alice and Charlie are 31 years of age- not children- when they meet. To go to the party where she gets together with Charlie Alice had to be coaxed out of her bedroom, where her prime focus in life at that time was making papier mache models of children’s storybook characters (admirable, but not indicative of a tuned-in, active, go-getting liberal wanting to improve the world). She falls for him, and it’s not hard to see why.
    It’s from here, in the later stages of the book, where she comes over all sanctimonious. This is where the intrusiveness of the connection with the ‘Bush story’ seriously undermines the Novel. Politically, most of us have opinions which at this point are well set; for or against. (To state my political stance would be irrelevant to a book review.)
    I really began to dislike the narrator at this point and, as readers, we lost out on further development of the wealth of characters we had been so skillfully introduced to. Instead, our self-consciously ‘liberal’ narrator starts tying up all the loose ends to make herself look wonderfully altruistic (i.e. donations to AIDS charities, soup kitchens…)
    I enjoyed being engrossed in this novel, but was ultimately disappointed that the author did not force our ‘heroine’ face the reality that she is a fantasist.
    What a good book for a book club!

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  9. Terri says

    Hi! I went back in your archives looking for new books for myself and I came across this post. I just want to say that I just finished reading Unbroken and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. It was one of the best biography-type books I’ve read. It was very moving and a very good read. Now, I’m gonna go start American Wife… if I can find it on eBook through my library! Thank you!

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