An American Wife

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An American Wife
What's it like being married to the President of the United States?

Do you ever think about Laura Bush? May sound like a strange question, but it's really not: Do you ever consider what life must be like for the woman married to the most powerful man in the world?

The author Curtis Sittenfeld is picking up the slack. She has parlayed a deep fascination with Laura into the 558-page novel, American Wife, which imagines the courtship and marriage of a librarian named Alice and her hard-drinking, baseball-team-owning, born-again husband Charlie Blackwell. Through good times and hardship, a doting Alice stands by Charlie's side—all the way to the White House. (Did I mention she even imagines their sex life, too?)

Sittenfeld, who is also the author of Prep and The Man of My Dreams, first confessed her interest in our First Lady in an essay on Salon.com, called "Why I Love Laura Bush." Sittenfeld has told interviewers that as a liberal, she's against what the Bush presidency stands for, yet she's fascinated by such a gentle, calm, sincere woman who is the president's wife. How much can a first wife—or any wife, for that matter—influence her husband?

Sittenfeld gave a peek into her thought processes while writing the character "Alice Blackwell," when she told Salon.com's Rebecca Traitster in an interview today:

What should the role of first lady be, given that it's not an elected position? So many people think Hillary Clinton overstepped boundaries by getting too involved, and that Laura Bush has been much too passive. It's very tough to strike a balance. People do say that Laura has been complicit in the deaths of all these Iraqis. That's an easy thing to say. But let's say you know your husband's a really reckless driver—do you forbid him from driving? Do you steal his keys? Do you divorce him? I think that in life it often seems clearer what other people should do about their problems than what you should do about your problems.

That's definitely food for thought.

Much ink has been spilled and many tongues have wagged over how Hillary Clinton should have behaved when she discovered her husband was fooling around with one of his interns, so it's refreshing to peek into another political wife's head for awhile. American Wife is in bookstores now.