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 think Alice did a good job of holding on to her beliefs in spite of the fact they contrasted her husbands. I think she understood that because of his public position and his ambitions, that was something of a necessity. Even when she spoke with the protester near the end of the novel, that simple act and few words she told him raised a ruckus in the public view and even within her marriage!

    I think Charlie was very likable, for the most part – fun loving, affable, energetic. It’s easy to see why Alice was so drawn to him.

    My full review of the book: http://www.justaonegirlrevolution.com/review-american-wife/

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    • says

      thanks for posting your review!! and i agree with your perception of alice. she kept her own opinions but recognized that she was in a role meant to support her husband since he was the president. while she did share that she was pro choice and supported gay marriage, she didn’t completely sell charlie out and come right out and she she didn’t agree with a lot of his decisions. i feel like she spoke out about the issues that were truly important to her.

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      • Summer says

        I agree with all of this… except for thinking Charlie was likeable. To me, he wasn’t fun-loving- he was immature. Deep down, he knew he was inadequate for the position and should have had the cojones to admit it to himself and his family.

        That being said, I struggled with giving charlie a fair shot- I almost wish I hadn’t known he was supposed to be GWB before reading. I was not a fan….

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  2. says

    I’ve got to do my review too; but I’ve got about 40 more pages to finish tonight.

    I want to finish the book before drawing all my final conclusions, but what I can say is that I would be attracted to Charlie if I were in Alice’s shoes. I think he had a lot of “likable” attributes. Also, I am very much like Alice in that I have my own opinions about a lot of things, but I know when stand by my man too. If you love someone it’s about finding that middle ground to build a solid relationship.

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  3. says

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book and am really enjoying it. Even with not knowing how it ends, I keep recommending it to friends.
    I am finding Charlie to be a likeable character, but one that still has a lot of growing up to do. I really liked when Alice told him – during their separation – that she is not his teacher. She stood up for herself but also showed that she wanted to make the marriage work.
    With regards to Alice compromising her ideals, I felt that when she decided to marry Charlie, she knew that her ideals would have to take a backseat, that her primary job would be to support her husband.
    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book – hopefully will be done in the next day or two!

    And can’t wait for the next book, whatever it may be!

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  4. says

    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?

    I think she does compromise herself some but that IS realistic when you want to preserve something like this relationship. I know for me, there are things I do in order to keep peace and maintain a happy relationship with significant other. Sometimes I don’t like it but my love for him and the importance of having him in my life is more important to me than keeping some of the habits I’ve chosen to give up. In fact, my BF and I disagree on many political issues and though they are important to me, we’ve both chosen to talk about them minimally because they can end up causing problems between us.

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  5. says

    Honestly? I couldn’t get GW outta my damn head. Also, I know she’s not HER mom, but I kept thinking it’d be hilarious is Barbara came out. I was way too distracted. That, and I kept going back to reread parts due to a teething baby.

    It made me really glad I married a fellow quasi-socialist, who also happens to love order and is a cop. So, so grateful.

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  6. says

    I really liked the book too! The accident made me SO sad. I don’t know why, but I was devastated as well :(

    I found it very interesting to see her/their perspective on being famous. I think it would drive me totally crazy. I think I would enjoy the attention for like 2 days, and then be so over it.

    I think that she compromises herself throughout the book, but that is why she is such a fascinating character–because she then kind of realizes at the end who she really is. A very dynamic character!

    I thought her decision at the end of the book was awesome. But quite funny how she defiantly went against her husband –both in the open and in secret.

    I thought Charlie was likable, but he drove me crazy. I would not have fallen for him –he is too childish. However, once he ‘grows’ up I liked him much more.

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  7. says

    I adore this book. It is one of my absolute favorites!

    As far as your discussion question about Charlie–I LOVE him. He is so funny! I cannot go through that book without cracking up at what he says. Whether he’s making fun of that little girl for going through his porn collection or cursing his brothers out for something minor, I love him. He has some childish antics that made me want to scream at him, but he is who he is.

    I think Alice was attracted to him because he made her quiet and dull life exciting, and he let her be herself.

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  8. kyla says

    Charlie is charismatic, handsome, wealthy, and funny. How could a woman not be attracted to him? Although at times I thought to myself he acted like a jerk, Charlie genuinely loved Alice. Of all the women he had met throughout his life who were throwing themselves at him, he chose Alice. Besides, Alice ends up saving his campaign! She donated money to liberal services and groups. I loved that!

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  9. says

    I really liked Alice’s character, while Charlie I loved at the beginning, not so much after a while: he seemed like a bit of a jerk. While reading the book I kept asking myself whether I would marry and support in a campaign someone who has different political ideas, and I think I probably couldn’t do it: one of the reasons I love my relationship with my boyfriend is that we have the same ideas and beliefs political-wise and this has made us even closer than we were.
    But I do think Alice did a great job, always pointing out to herself that she is not her husband nor can she influence his politics.

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  10. says

    I’m LOVING your pbfinger book club! Its so fun to know other people are reading the same book and getting your reaction as well as other reader’s reactions to the books!

    I am currently halfway through the American Wife so I’m scared to read your review (would hate to ruin the ending for myself). It would be helpful if you added a “spoiler alert” before any part of your review that could ruin the ending if you’re not finished with the book :) just a thought!

    Regardless, I will come back and read your review when I’m finished with the both!! Thanks for writing your blog! I love it!

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  11. sue says

    I bet you would enjoy Laura Bush’s memoir, “Spoken from the Heart.” I have never been a fan of George W, but have always liked her. Loved the book!

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  12. Sarah says

    based on Laura Bush?! REALLY? YAY! I think she was an amazing first lady, even if she is a Democrat lol. her husband is great too so i hope that charlie is true to him. one of my fears about this book was that the author might portray george w. in a negative way because of political disagreement. Truly, I think he is personally such a great down to earth guy, even if i don’t agree with all he does (i just agree with most of it :) Maybe i should write one about the Obamas… then again, maybe not.

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  13. Kaelin says

    From the start, i was fascinated with figuring out who the story was loosly based on. Not until Charlie entered Alice’s life did I realize it was the Bush family. This kept me reading. I have no idea how much is true and am pretty polictically neutral so I was not swayed by my own personal convictions.

    I found Charlie quite charming, but could’t help buy compare him to Pres Bush while I was reading. The Blackwell family is a blast, and again I made comparisons to George Bush’s parents.

    Overall, this was not my favorite book ever but I loved getting an inside look into such a powerful couple’s lifestyle and background. Even if it was fiction based.

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  14. Eli says

    So whats up with not posting your usual stuff? I would have thought you would atleast post your dinner from last night and breakfast this morning.

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    • says

      when i did my last book club post i dedicated the post solely to the book review and dicussion questions and kept this one the same way. i think it makes it easier for people who read the book and want to discuss it to do so in the comments section since there won’t typically be comments about anything other than the book.

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  15. Erin B says

    I enjoyed reading this book more than I thought I would. For me, it started off a bit slow and took a few chapters to pull me in. Grandma was by FAR my favorite character :)

    As others have noted, I thought that Alice did a lot to put her marriage first (and her child first) which is absolutely important. However, I was hugely disappointed that Charlie did not share the same commitment to his wife or daughter…sure, he was fun and charismatic, but what a terrible partner. I felt like he adored Alice while she was shiny and new, but kind of left her in the dust once things got comfortable. First, he drank and was the party boy / man. Then, he became very focused on religion and his own political success without her on board.

    I suppose I was just so disappointed that this scenario was considered a happy ending. It broke my heart!

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  16. says

    I think it is totally natural to compromise some of your beliefs and ideals during marriage, after all marriage, I guess, is a lot about compromise. Additionally, as you grow older your beliefs and priorites are bound to change. I think Alice did a great job at protecting her beliefs whilst putting her husband and his candidacy first. She put her family first, and sacrificed a lot, as many women do, for this to happen. Having said that, Charlie never really seemed to blame her for things that had happened in her life that might reflect badly on him, and therefore, in a way putting her, his wife, first.

    I can understand her attraction to Charlie, he seems, especially at first, like a real catch. Charming, handsome, rich, intelligent- what more could she ask for. Its only as Alice, and the reader get to know him more intimately that we see other sides to his character such as his drinking problem. Perhaps this is to show readers that after 6 weeks (or 12 weeks when they got married) that you do not know someone as well as you think you might. It is telling that his mother, later on in the book, tells of how the family thought Alice was too good for Charlie, and not the other way round as Alice had thought. The portrayal of Charlie’s character flaws show the reader that fame, money and good looks are not everything and through the tension between Alice and Charlie we see that marriages can be tough, despite how they may appear to people on the outside. I think Charlie really came through at the end of the novel, forgiving Alice for her flaws, and showing that despite everything, she was his priority.

    Being British, I had no idea until the 9/11 reference that this was even lightly based on the Bush family- something I am really glad about as I am not sure I would have liked Charlie as much if I had known.

    I loved the book and read it within 3 days. Looking forward to the next book club book! (sorry for the really long post!)

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  17. says

    I read the book a long, long time ago and loved it. I definitely thought that it was very realistic in it’s portrayal of their relationship. I think that’s how real relationships are – it’s not perfect, you will always be settling in some way, but you have to find a way that the good and bad work out. I did feel like the issue with the Grandma was an odd note to end the story on, just because I felt as though the author was trying to force the ending. The role the grandmother played wasn’t as big. I also felt that as the character hadn’t made any broad political announcements that there needed to be a bit more build-up to it. However, I absolutely loved the book, and would even read it again.

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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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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