American Wife



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This was my selection.  Originally I thought I'd just read it on my own and started it before I started The Eight.  I read the first part and then put it aside to read The Eight.  Once I finished I was going to start a different book for my selection, but I had enjoyed the first part so much and wanted to get back to the rest of it, that I decided to share it with my book club.  I hope they find it as enjoyable as I have.  When I first acquired this book I thought it would be a future book club selection, but something made me switch it over to my personal reading shelf, perhaps I was concerned about the love scenes - which are quite a few and quite detailed, but nothing ridiculous for a married couple to experience.  The book reads a bit like a who's who of books and drops quite a few names (titles) like Paris Hilton on the red carpet.  I read the book both in traditional format and electronically.


On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex:  3
Religion: 3
Gruesome: 0
Suspense:  0
Morality:  4

Sex - Several episodes with the new relationship eagerness with quite a few details.  As the author herself says, the book covers 30 years of a couple's life - there is going to be sex.  It is not the main focus, but neither is it hidden - it occurs as it would in the natural life of a couple with traditional values and a traditional lifestyle. 

Religion - In her late 20s and early 30s she only went to church when home for the weekend to accompany mom and grandma but didn't go on her own.  There are characters who are very religious and characters who are unsure of religion.  It does not make a strong statement one way or the other.

Gruesome - A car accident that was tragic but not gory or gruesome.  Aside from that, the only other gruesome thing I recall is a line towards the end that was much more comical than gruesome on p. 540, "Every decade, you like to pin me to the ground, pull open my mouth, and take a shit right into it."

Suspense - Nothing suspenseful however don't confuse that with boring.  I found this book highly entertaining and interesting.

Morality - Grandmother has a girlfriend (details of compromising position and kiss), teen sex with positional details and realities of after effects.  An abortion that is hidden from parents and, for many years, from the biological father.  I can't be middle of the road when these are major issues that many people find objectionable.  So there is some moral concern to consider when choosing this book for particular audiences.  I don't think that reading this book will cause anyone to change their own sense of morality - but it could bother some less liberal readers.

I LOVE this book.  I can't say enough how much I LOVE this book.  But even though I LOVE this book, there were still some parts that I disagreed with stylistically.  The Prologue is in the White House and then we spend about 90 pages in high-school in the mid-'50s.  Approximately 50 pages are entirely in the past but then, all of a sudden on page 52 as she's describing what people think of Wisconsin she makes references to campaigning and polling numbers.  Her leap continues for a little over a page and then she's back in high school again.  In actuality her high school narration is all in past tense but since it is 90 pages worth its easy to forget that it is all a look back.

I thought Jadey and Alice's conversation one night as they walked was very candid.  Sometimes I've wished for someone I could discuss marital intimacies with.  I felt like Alice was my soul sister.  So many of her thoughts and thought processes throughout the book were similar to my own which often made me think I'd like to sit down and have tea with Curtis Sittenfeld because obviously a characters' thoughts had to occur first to the author.

Ms. Sittenfeld broaches subjects, through Alice, that most women would probably be ashamed or embarrassed to say out loud but, I daresay, many women are probably relieved to know that others (Alice, or possibly the author through Alice) also wrestle with these things such as:
     - husbands having porn
     - stealing a boyfriend
     - being more blessed than others
The last night of reunions when Charlie wanted to be intimate with Alice she hesitated because Ella was sleeping on the other side of the wall and was distracted by the squeaky bed.  Thank you for voicing agreement to my feelings and concerns that men don't seem to have - thus causing the women to feel isolated and stupid.

The book is split into four parts - each one identified by the address where the main character, Alice, lived during that time period.  Part 1 occurs when she is in high school.  Part 2 occurs when she is a single, working woman and beginning to date Charlie.  Part 3, the longest, occurs when she and Charlie are finding themselves as an adult, married couple with a child and how to fit into society and family life.  Part 4 occurs in the White House.  The style of the last part shifts dramatically from a fictional narrative to an insider's look at life in the White House with lots more commentary than fictional action.  The commentary still has a fictional tone to it, since it is from the voice of Alice, but it is a big change from the tone that has been used in the rest of the book.

The author states, in the printed conversation with her at the back of the book, that "in each section there's a major plot twist that has a strong resemblance to an event in the real life of Laura Bush.  But everything else is made up." (p. 562)  Based on a couple of internet sites, including Wikipedia, I compiled some similarities and differences and, as you can see, there are a lot more similarities than differences.

SIMILARITIES
 Alice Lindgren 
 Laura Bush
Librarian / Teacher
Born in 1945 or 1946
an only child
life-long love of reading
in 1963, at 17 ran a stop sign and killed a classmate on the way to a party (classmate might have been boyfriend with more time)
accident caused her to question faith for many years
stayed in state for college, graduated in 1968
taught 3rd grade then got a Master's in Library Science in 1972
met her husband at a friends backyard BBQ in 1977

married within five months of meeting
multi-family compound in same state
fiancee considered Congress run at time of engagement
did not get elected to Congress in 1978
daughter named after Grandmothers, born in 1979?
daughter attended Princeton
credited with being a positive influence in husband's life
encouraged husband to stop drinking in 1988
husband elected as governor
supported literacy and breast cancer issues
husband was Republican
agreed to presidential run but hoped it wouldn't happen
husband's Presidential race was so close it had to be decided by Supreme court in 2000
1st Lady during 9/11 attacks

approval rating at 83%
uncomfortable with the idea of overturning Roe v Wade
short brown hair
Educator / Librarian
Born in 1946
an only child
life-long love of reading
 in 1963, at 17 ran a stop sign and killed a classmate on the way to a party (some report classmate had been her boyfriend)
accident caused her to lose her faith for many years
stayed in state for college, graduated in 1968
taught 2nd grade then became a librarian in 1973
met her husband at a friend's backyard BBQ
in 1977
married within three months of meeting
family compound in Maine
fiancee considered Congress run at time of engagement
did not get elected to Congress in 1978
twin daughters named after Grandmothers, born 1981
one daughter attended Yale
credited with being a positive influence in husband's life
encouraged husband to stop drinking in 1986
husband elected as governor
supported literacy and breast cancer issues
husband was Republican
agreed to presidential run but never dreamed it would happen
husband's Presidential race was closest in history
in 2000

1st Lady during 9/11 attacks
approval rating at 82%
did not believe Roe v Wade should be overturned
short brown hair



DIFFERENCES
 Alice Lindgren 
 Laura Bush
Born in Wisconsin
Father was a Banker - Mother a homemaker
alone in the car at time of accident in August or September
liked many books but didn't mention these
fiancee worked for family meat business
father in law was former governor
father in law did not pursue further politics
only one daughter


did not have strong sense of personal religion

radically opposed husband on several key issues

Born in Texas
Father was a Builder - Mother his bookkeeper
a friend was in the car with her at time of accident in November
liked Little House on the Prairie and Little Women
fiancee owned a small oil business
father in law was former director of CIA
father in law was elected President
twin daughters
difficulty getting pregnant
pre-eclampsia caused emergency c-section 5 weeks early
encouraged husband to attend church
no public record of having strong differences of opinion with her husband


Discussion Questions

Question:  Should Alice have told her parents about her grandmother and Dr. Wycomb?

Discuss:  While a Senior in high school Alice caused a car accident that killed a classmate.  Imagine if that had happened to you - or your child.  How would you cope?  How would it shape the rest of your life?

Question:  Alice felt some relief when President Kennedy was assassinated because it took the focus off her but she felt ashamed for the rest of her life, about feeling relieved.  Do you agree that it was a shameful thought?

Question:  What do you think about Alice's house-buying philosophy -
     a)  buying it alone if she wasn't married by 30
     b)  looking for a house she really loved

Question:  Would it have been better if Andrew Imhof had died in the war?  More honorable or better how?  For whom, Alice?  His family?  Or worse because of the distance?

Discuss:  (p. 122 - 123)  "During my senior year in high school, I'd stopped thinking of marriage as my birthright.  It wasn't just that I no longer considered myself inherently deserving or that I no longer believed I was looked after by the universe.  It was also that I would not want to marry a man unless I could show myself to him truly - I had no interest in tricking anyone - but I couldn't imagine showing myself to most men, revealing myself as more complicated than I seemed.  ...  To remain alone did not seem to me a terrible fate, no worse than being falsely joined to another person."

Question:  What do you think about Alice's philosophy that little girls should have short hair so they don't become vain?

Question:  Was Alice right to worry what Dena would think if she went out with Charlie?  Was Dena's reaction (p. 156) appropriate?

Question:  Do you think Pete Imhof solicited an investment from Mrs. Lindgren as -
     a) revenge
     b) because she was an easy target
     c) a combination of a and b
     d) with all sincerity and good intentions

Question:  Alice said that guilt was much more comfortable to her than anger (p. 137).  What emotion are you most comfortable with?

Question:  Did you ever wonder if Charlie really loved Alice or if it was all strategy for him?

Discuss:  After Alice and Charlie got married, she started dreaming about Andrew Imhof on a regular basis and even said she still missed him terribly. (p. 255)  Does this seem logical or rational?  Do you think that, had he not died, they would've lived happily ever after in Riley?

Question:  Was it a wise strategy for Alice to support Charlie, "not as a politician but as a person"?  (loc 3476)

Question:  Have you ever visited someone in the hospital who seemed to be hallucinating like Emilie did?  How did you handle it?

Question:  Were you surprised when Alice broke down with Jadey and said she'd been thinking of leaving Charlie? (p. 349)

Question:  (depending on the looseness of your group) Re-create the family dinner party question - Ask who has ever "smoked up". (p. 306)

Question:  Do you think Alice was wrong to spontaneously take Miss Ruby to the play?

Discuss:  Alice, "considered it important to raise Ella in the church, if for no other reason than that years in the future, should she wish to take solace in religion, she would have a foundation for doing so" (p. 318) even though Ailce herself was unsure of her faith.  Discuss the strategy.

Discuss:  Alice thought "no one's true self was the business of more than a very small number of family members or close friends" and "making superficial remarks didn't have the power to eclipse or insult the dead any more than missing them had the power to bring them back." (p. 322)  Agree?

Question:  Were you surprised that Dena was dating Pete Imhof?  (p. 323)

Discuss:  On p. 332, Alice wondered, "was it adolescent to become preoccupied with other people's problems, or to feel, while reading the newspaper or watching the local news, that if you didn't consciously will yourself not to, you might cry?"  Is it?

Discuss:  Jadey asks, "Did you have any idea marriage would be so much damn work?" (p. 339) and Alice wonders if marriage was, "the slow process of getting to know another individual far better than was advisable?"  Are these women just overly cynical?  And who was right about Charlie being there for lunch with Miss Ruby or not?

Question:  Did anyone wonder why nobody told Meghan Thayer that she was wrong for wandering through the Blackwell house and going into their drawers?

Discuss:  Alice "wondered if [Ella] wasn't already being influenced by what was worst in Charlie and by my indulgence of his short comings." (loc 7580)  Is this reasonable?  Can you relate?

Question:  How would you have handled such a phone call from your mother-in-law about not leaving Charlie?  Did everyone think Charlie was foolish?

Question:  Who did you think gave Ella the tiara when she was alone in the front yard - and why?

Discuss:  Did you appreciate the similarities - the close election decided by the Supreme court (similar to hanging chads) and the terrorist attacks?  What other similarities did you note?

Discuss:  Alice tells us that Charlie says Americans don't have access to the intelligence the president does - yet they judge his decisions. 

Question:  Do you agree with Alice that if she and the president went out to dinner "It is selfish, really, we take up more than our fair share of oxygen." (p. 455)

Question:  What issue or event from Alice's pre-Charlie years did you predict would come back to haunt her the most?

Discuss:  Towards the end of the book Alice reflects that when she and Charlie were falling in love she said, "I can assure you I'll never tell anyone if I disagree with you...That's no one's business but ours."  (p. 540)  Did she keep her promise?  What were the repercussions?

Question:  Should Alice have told Ella about the abortion? (ref. p. 545 for Alice's rationale)

Discuss:  Alice felt that if she stood by in silence when her husband made choices, that she was responsible too (p. 552).  She felt guilt about every person killed in the war.  Agree or disagree?  Does the revelation about her voting (p. 555) change this idea in any way?



Theme Ideas

Music Playlist:
1.  The Carpenter's (like Dena and Alice would play when they got together)
2.  Jimmy Buffet (like when Alice drove to the Lion's Club meeting)
3.  Stevie Wonder (like the first time Alice and Charlie were together)
4.  Bon Jovi - You Give Love a Bad Name (like when Ella got in the car after school)
9.  Classical music (like Charlie started listening to as the president)
10. Garth Brooks - Friends in Low Places (like in the campaign van)
12.  R. Kelly - I Believe I Can Fly (like the baton routine at the gala in Alice's honor)

Decorate with paper mache book characters or origami.

Decorate with books.  Consider picking up some of the titles below at thrift shops and giving to your guests. 
Or, in honor of Jessica Sutton, have your book club do a book drive and donate the books to a local kids charity.
 Kid Books  
 Teen Books
 Adult Books
Bread and Jam for Frances
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Tikki Tikki Tembo
Pierre
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
The Giving Tree
Babar
Madeline's Rescue
Yertle the Turtle
Paddle-to-the-Sea
Eloise
The Runaway Bunny
Mr. Men (Mr. Sneeze character)
Pippi Longstocking
Charlotte's Web
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Blueberries for Sal
Ferdinand
Flowers for Algernon
Tico and the Golden Wings
Encyclopedia Brown
To Kill a Mockingbird
Deenie
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
A Wrinkle in Time
Anastasia Krupnik
Autumn Street
The Westing Game
The Outsiders
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Homecoming
Dicey's Song
A Solitary Blue
The Diary of Anne Frank
Locked in Time
Rebecca
Pride and Prejudice
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Odyssey
Rabbit Redux
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Group
Gone with the Wind
Frankenstein
Presumed Innocent
The Counte of Monte Cristo
The Golden Notebook
In Cold Blood
Lady Chatterly's Lover
The Great Santini
The Maltese Falcon
Native Son
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Old Forest
Stop Time (Frank Conroy)

Decorate in orange and black Princeton colors with Tigers.  Serve turkey sandwiches, cookies and Bud and Bud Light or Chicken and scalloped potatoes.

Serve corn and tomato salad, broiled pork chops and beer like Alice made for herself during the summer.

Serve barbeque, potato chips and onion dip, white wine and six-packs of Pabst beer in the backyard like when Dena went to met Charlie Blackwell.

Serve bottles of Miller beer, bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings like Alice and Charlie ate after the Lion's Club meeting.

Serve sugar cookies in the shape of a dog bone like Stromond's Bakery gave to kids under 12.

Serve chicken salad sandwiches and Vienna torte with iced tea like when Alice was visiting and grandma announce she had a new beau. (p. 157)

Serve pineapple upside down cake like Big Glenn the janitor's wife made for the school faculty every May.

Serve champagne, lemonade and watercress and egg salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off like at the wedding reception on p. 249.

Serve nacho casserole, jello salad and cold bacon cheese dip with potato chips like at the funeral reception.

Serve Butterhorn cookies and vanilla ice cream like at dinner at the in-laws after the funeral.

Serve graham crackers and Nutter Butters in honor of Ella's favorites.

Serve a baseball cake like Alice thought about making for Charlie. (p. 351)

Serve hamburgers and a sheet cake that says "Have a great SUMMER!" in red icing with ice cream. (p. 354)  Decorate with maroon and navy balloons.

Serve chicken salad sandwiches and Blondies like the picnic that never happened.

Serve peanut-butter fudge like Alice's mom made when she and Ella went for the extended visit.

Serve double-fudge brownies like Jadey gained 4 lbs. while Alice was gone.

Serve molasses cookies like Alice shared her recipe with the Sentinel.

Serve Cloudberry Layer cake like was served in Helsinki.

Get a Land O'Lakes box - cut out the knees and place at chest so when flap is lifted the knees look ample (I'm not sure this is still possible - the box design may have changed)
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