I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Rodham A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. Many thanks to Anne Cater for my blog tour invite and review copy of the book.
Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb. Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm ‘No’.
The rest, as they say, isn’t history. How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?
With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men. Uncannily astute and witty in the telling, RODHAM is a brilliant reimagining – an unmissable literary landmark and truly a novel of our times.
I have to admit to having a fascination for Hillary Clinton as I’ve never been able to work out if I admire her or pity her! They say that those who make their own beds have to lie in them and I’ve never understood why a woman as intelligent as Hillary stayed with a man who was, allegedly, persistently unfaithful to her. Was it because she loved him beyond my comprehension or had she made her choices to stay with him for other reasons? Was I being unfair in thinking that she was riding on his coattails for the long run and had her own agenda because surely she had more self respect than that? A recent rewatching of the 60 minutes interview where she “stands by her man” confirmed my opinion that the interview saved Bill Clinton’s political career but that by revealing a different side to the strong minded and opinionated woman we believed her to be, she put him above her own popularity with the American public. Unfortunately it has taken a very long time for them to forget that period of political history and the part she played in it. So how would life have been different for Hillary Rodham if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton? It’s well documented that she refused his first two proposals so what would have happened if she realised that he was never going to change and continued to say no to him. Well, Curtis Sittenfeld has cleverly crafted a “sliding doors” style scenario where that happens and it’s a completely unexpected but fascinating storyline.
Told in three parts, Rodham takes Hillary Rodham from childhood to…well you will just have to wait and see! I’m a big believer in our destination in life being the same but just taking a different path every time we made a decision that could have an alternate reality and so the ending here pretty much confirmed that in some way. The first part retains and retells the information we know about Hillary and how she meets Bill Clinton while both studying Law at Yale University. Obviously there is some poetic license as nobody ever knows what goes on behind closed doors but their relationship details felt biographical, told with lots of heart and understanding. Part two was where we see the parting of ways of this golden couple and watch them both form new relationships and lives but always remaining visible to each other due to their careers. For me this was the least interesting part of the book but I think that’s because I didn’t think the alternative for Hillary was anywhere near as dramatic and engrossing as what actually took place during those years. I did feel a bit mean but I then realised that Hillary and Bill were probably much more of a good match than expected even with the dramatic events they lived through! The last third brought the reader into the updated fictional version of Hillary and the storyline became an intriguing study of this woman entering the world where she was always destined to be. It was an entertaining reimagined political landscape with a Bill Clinton I could easily imagine existing today and a certain current president of the United States of America appearing alongside his ever embarrassing Twitter feed-some things were always going to stay the same even in a parallel universe!!
I’ve been a fan of Curtis Sittenfeld and her writing since American Wife and had Rodham on preorder. Whilst Rodham has a more politically activated storyline than the character based American Wife, I still became completely engrossed by the life of this complicated woman who came across as quite unlikable during most of her encounters with others in the book. I felt her intelligence radiating off the page but at what cost to her empathy? Even a meeting with a cancer struck mum of teenage girls is channeled into a propaganda exercise to advance her own political career! Usually I would say that she was a “mans woman” but that isn’t only politically incorrect but gives the impression she is liked more than men than women and this isn’t the case-she doesn’t seem to befriend either sex successfully and I’m convinced there are attachment issues founded early on in her childhood that impact on the fictional Hillary here.
I don’t feel I understand the real Hillary Clinton any more after reading Rodham but I probably have a better idea of what life could have been like for the former First Lady and think she made the right decision even if it wasn’t all roses in the White House garden. This is a unique and intrinsically imagined piece of literature that was a joy to immerse myself in! I can highly recommend it for a thought provoking read.
In addition to Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller American Wife, in which she painted a picture of an ordinary American girl – a thinly-disguised Laura Bush – who found herself married to a President. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep.
Her other books are Man of My Dreams, Sisterland (a Richard & Judy Book Club pick), Eligible, and the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It.
Her books are translated into 30 languages.
She lives with her family in the American Mid-West.