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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase American Wife

Title: American Wife
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 555 pages
Availability: American Wife - US
American Wife - UK
American Wife - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Just can't bring ourselves to devote the necessary time to get through something like this

Chances that we will review it:

Extremely small

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 7/9/2008 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ . 16/9/2008 Andrea Köhler
New York . 15/9/2008 Sam Anderson
The NY Sun A. 24/8/2008 Laura Collins-Hughes
The NY Times . 29/8/2008 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/8/2008 Joyce Carol Oates
The New Yorker . 15/9/2008 .
The Observer . 12/10/2008 Stephanie Merritt
Sunday Times . 2/11/2008 Stephen Amidon
TLS . 31/10/2008 Alison Kelly
USA Today . 29/8/2008 Carol Memmott
The Washington Post . 7/9/2008 Connie Schultz

  From the Reviews:
  • "The scope and detail of American Wife are reminiscent of Richard Russo. Like Russo, she creates characters from the ground up, ancestry, neighborhood, culture and all. Certain singing coaches advise clients to sing in their speaking voice for a more natural, organic sound. This is the way Sittenfeld writes -- in her speaking voice. Her characters are carefully rendered and the story is well-constructed, but that's no guarantee that the novel will have a shelf life beyond its political backstory." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Doch ist es ein Roman, der zeigt, was gute Fiktion vermag: mittels Imagination eine plausible Figur und ein komplexes Sittenbild zu entwerfen." - Andrea Köhler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "While the novel is occasionally funny (and sometimes, in its sex scenes, unintentionally hilarious), it is far from political satire. It’s a patient, hyperearnest character study. Laura Bush’s very existence seems to strike Sittenfeld as a challenge to the humanizing magic of the novel: She’s the Great White Whale of American cognitive dissonance, an icon of inhuman distance in a culture that demands constant superhuman close-ups. (...) Laura Bush may be a great novelistic subject, but American Wife doesn’t quite work as a novel. Its final section -- Alice and Charlie in the White House, embroiled in all the familiar controversies of the Bush regime -- is deeply disappointing." - Sam Anderson, New York

  • "(V)astly entertaining (.....) (I)t is an intelligent, well-crafted, psychologically astute novel that, granted, will anger the overly literal and the easily outraged. But such people are unlikely to be eager readers of contemporary fiction. This book is for those of us who are." - Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Sun

  • "American Wife, however, isn’t political satire; rather it attempts to give us an emotionally detailed portrait of a woman and her marriage to a politician, much the way Ms. Sittenfeld’s first novel, Prep, tried to give us an emotionally detailed portrait of a teenager and her experience of boarding school. (...) In the final pages of American Wife, which chronicle these developments, it’s clear that Ms. Sittenfeld has stopped channeling the thoughts and feelings of a character she has so meticulously created and instead begun using that heroine as a sock puppet for her own views on the unhappy tenure of the Bush administration." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "As a portraitist in prose, Sittenfeld never deviates from sympathetic respect for her high-profile subject: she is not Francis Bacon but rather more Norman Rockwell. (...) Curtis Sittenfeld surely did not intend to create, in this mostly amiable, entertaining novel, anything so ambitious — or so presumptuous -- as a political/cultural allegory in the 19th-century mode, yet American Wife might be deconstructed as a parable of America in the years of the second Bush presidency: the "American wife" is in fact the American people, or at least those millions of Americans who voted for a less-than-qualified president in two elections -- the all-forgiving enabler for whom the bromide "love" excuses all." - Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review

  • "As the book progresses to more recent and familiar events, she has difficulty enlivening the ins and outs of electioneering and policymaking. (...) Neither character is very likable -- Alice weak-willed and martyrlike, Charlie unbearably self-centered -- but the novel, Sittenfeld’s most fully realized yet, artfully evokes the painful reverberations of the past." - The New Yorker

  • "Sittenfeld has created a provocative picture of the complex relationship between public and private life. It is a testament to her art as a novelist that the reader never loses a sense of affection for Alice, even while wishing her quiet integrity could have been more forceful." - Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

  • "Although occasionally entertaining, Sittenfeld's excessively long novel fails to shed much light on its mysterious subject. Alice possesses all the attributes of a beguiling heroine (hidden secrets, romantic entanglements, moral quandaries), but the author proves unable to breathe much life into her. This is due primarily to a bland, overly detailed prose style that drains the excitement from even the most dramatic scenes, such as that fatal car wreck." - Stephen Amidon, Sunday Times

  • "Sittenfeld convincingly shows the dailiness of a famous life and the joys and heartaches of marriage, even to a US president. The trouble is, she so fully accomplishes this objective that Alice's long and minutely detailed chronicle is, on the whole, disappointingly commonplace." - Alison Kelly, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It may be impossible for readers not to picture President and Mrs. Bush while reading about Alice and Charlie. This gives the novel cinematic qualities that enhance the experience. But explicit sex scenes will make you feel like a voyeur. (...) If the book has one weakness, it's that Sittenfeld spends too much time letting Alice wring her hands with guilt over her privileged life. She makes up for it with the first lady's startling final confession" - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "This story isn't really about Laura Bush, although main character Alice Blackwell does share so many traits with the current first lady that the steamy sex scenes are bound to elicit a collective ewww. Never mind that. American Wife advances the notion that there is more to a president's wife than orchestrated public appearances. Still a radical notion in Washington, perhaps, but one that women around the country will welcome. (...) Then again, would this story carry as much punch if we didn't think that maybe, just maybe, this is how Laura Bush really feels ?" - Connie Schultz, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Author Curtis Sittenfeld writes at the begining of this novel that:

American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady.
       In fact, it's closely and obviously based on George jr. Bush's wife, Laura, which is why there's been a lot of pre-publication 'buzz', and why it will be interesting to see what the critical and reader-reactions to the book are. Coming at the very tail end of an administration whose players (including spouses, children, and assorted other family members) will surely shortly fade into complete and deserved oblivion one wonders whether interest will be sustainable -- especially in the UK, where the book will only appear once the Bushs have left the White House.

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American Wife: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Curtis Sittenfeld is an American author.

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© 2008 the complete review

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