Joyce Carol Oates reviews Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, American Wife (and also looks at her previous novels), on page one of the New York Times Book Review:

“Our greatest 19th-century prose writers from Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville through Henry James and Mark Twain took it for granted that ‘American’ is an identity fraught with ambiguity, as in those allegorical parables by Hawthorne in which ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are mysteriously conjoined; to be an ‘American’ is to be a kind of pilgrim, an archetypal seeker after truth. Though destined to be thwarted, even defeated, the pilgrim is our deepest and purest American self.”

“The ‘American wife’ of Sittenfeld’s new novel, conspicuously modeled after the life of Laura Bush as recorded in Ann Gerhart’s biography The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush (2004), is a fictitious first lady named Alice Blackwell, née Lindgren, a Wisconsin-born former grade school teacher and librarian who comes belatedly to realize, in middle age, at the height of the Iraq war that her aggressively militant president-husband has initiated and stubbornly continues to defend, that she has compromised her youthful liberal ideals: ‘I lead a life in opposition to itself.’ 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.”

1 Comment »

  1. I would have to point out that the Native American Archetype is routed far deeper in our communal American Mind. After all…it was they that saved the Pilgrims that first most crucial winter. Deny the savage not. Their love of nature both terrified the European settlers and gave longing to all their dreams and ambitions. Pushed down further into our communial subconscious over time, over years – eventually there will be a torrent of wild, all consuming connection with nature that will spill out in every part of our American landscape.

    This is a lovely site and I thank you for the inspirations and work behind it.


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