Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Another hit for Sittenfeld after Prep and The Man of My Dreams? Here, unassuming Alice Blackwell goes from small-town girl to First Lady. With a ten-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Sittenfeld tracks, in her uneven third novel, the life of bookish, naïve Alice Lindgren and the trajectory that lands her in the White House as first lady. Charlie Blackwell, her boyishly charming rake of a husband, whose background of Ivy League privilege, penchant for booze and partying, contempt for the news and habit of making flubs when speaking off the cuff, bears more than a passing resemblance to the current president (though the Blackwells hail from Wisconsin, not Texas). Sittenfeld shines early in her portrayal of Alice's coming-of-age in Riley, Wis., living with her parents and her mildly eccentric grandmother. A car accident in her teens results in the death of her first crush, which haunts Alice even as she later falls for Charlie and becomes overwhelmed by his family's private summer compound and exclusive country club membership. Once the author leaves the realm of pure fiction, however, and has the first couple deal with his being ostracized as a president who favors an increasingly unpopular war, the book quickly loses its panache and sputters to a weak conclusion that doesn't live up to the fine storytelling that precedes it. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* In her bold third novel, the author of the best-selling Prep (2005) presents a fictional portrait of First Lady Laura Bush, although she changes some important details. In a memoir told entirely in the first person, Alice Blackwell relays her unlikely ascent to the White House from her humble Wisconsin beginnings. She conveys in convincing, thoroughly riveting detail a life far more complicated than it appears on the surface the moment she discovered that her beloved grandmother was a lesbian; a tragic, life-changing car accident she had as a teenager; the friendship she willingly sacrificed with her best friend when she started dating the good-humored, athletic Charlie Blackwell; and her uncomfortable initiation into the tight-knit, immensely wealthy Blackwell family, run with unflappable authority by its formidable matriarch. No one is more surprised than Alice when her hard-drinking, sports-team-owning husband morphs into a born-again Christian with political ambitions. Suddenly, Alice's life is no longer her own as her every move is parsed for its political implications. Sittenfeld is sure to come under fire for presuming to so methodically blur the lines between fiction and reality and for timing her novel's publication to an election year for maximum publicity. Yet what she does here, in prose as winning as it is confident, is to craft out of the first-person narration a compelling, very human voice, one full of kindness and decency. And, as if making the Bush-like couple entirely sympathetic is not enough of a feat in itself, she also provides many rich insights into the emotional ebb and flow of a long-term marriage.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2008 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
An elementary-school librarian marries the least promising son of an old-moneyed, intensely competitive Republican family and sticks by him as he rises from hard-drinking fool to unpopular U.S. President in this roman à clef from Sittenfeld (The Man of My Dreams, 2006, etc.). In the involving, richly imagined first section of the book, set in Wisconsin rather than Texas, narrator Alice spends a charmed middle-class girlhood with loving parents and a devoted grandmother, an iconoclast who introduces Alice to the joys of literature, among other things. Then, as a teen, virginal Alice runs a stop sign, hits another car and causes the death of the very boy she was on her way to meet at a party. In confused grief she sleeps with his older brother and has an abortion. There is a lot of melodrama, but Sittenfeld's understated style works well to bring home Alice's loss of innocence. Unfortunately, once Charlie Blackwell comes on the scene to tie Alice awkwardly to semi-accurate facts, the story becomes a plodding, predictable series of close encounters with the factual history of a family Americans already know well: Charlie's white-haired, overbearing mother and genuinely decent dad; Charlie's devotion to baseball and his stint as the owner of a baseball team; Charlie's hard drinking; Charlie's Christian conversion after Alice threatens to leave him; Charlie's limited mental faculties but soaring ambition; Charlie's Machiavellian handler who steers his political fortunes. Once Charlie rises to President and wages a war she questions, Alice faces a new (presumably fictional) crisis of conscience. While deciding whether to meet the protesting father of a dead soldier, Alice muses unconvincingly on the insularity of fame, the role of the media and her own responsibility for her husband's failed policies. What draws bookish Democrat Alice to Charlie--and what keeps her his barely questioning helpmate--is how cute he is, despite those squinty eyes, along with his dependence and adoration. This fictional first lady is a wimp and her husband a lightweight. So what's new? Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.