American Wife, a fascinating and provocative tale of an ordinary woman’s journey to the White House caught me in its grip from the first moment.
Written in the first-person voice of Alice Lindgren, ordinary child of Midwestern parents, we follow her childhood and adolescent experiences. Her father is a banker, her mother a housewife. Living in the home is her paternal grandmother, a woman who reads a lot and has opinions. Someone who has an enormous impact on the young girl. She is also someone who harbors a secret, one that can potentially devastate the lives of those around her.
And then, startlingly, on one ordinary night, something happens that seemingly steers Alice off-course. An accident that changes her and how she views the world.
From this defining moment forward, we see Alice’s life change direction. She becomes a quiet librarian, almost austere in her life choices. She could continue on this path indefinitely.
But then, another unexpected event alters the course of her life. She meets Charlie Blackwell, a rich young man, son of a former governor, whose world of privilege clashes with Alice’s humble beginnings. She is captivated by his charisma. They fall in love.
Their married life reveals much about each of them. Through familiarity, they become adept at understanding each other’s flaws and limitations. At one point, Alice considers leaving Charlie, whose fondness for drinking and carousing troubles her greatly. But then she realizes that in life and in marriage, compromises must be made…
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your views), this decision sets the tone for the rest of their lives together and ultimately their roles when Charlie becomes President. Her quietly divergent views are left unexpressed, at least publicly, and she becomes almost an automaton—waving at crowds, hosting galas, and focusing on noncontroversial issues until something happens that seemingly changes the course of their lives.
A secret from Alice’s past threatens to be revealed by someone she considered an ally—a friend, even. But then when she dodges that bullet, she takes an opportunity to quietly voice her own opinions to a war protestor who has taken up camp on the White House lawn, requesting an audience with the President. Her actions thrust her into the eye of a media storm, but then the spin doctors take over with their damage control. So it seems as if she has dodged another bullet. Or has she?
Will her life be irrevocably altered still again? What will happen to the carefully constructed world she and her husband have created? And what, indeed, will be the outcome for the country? “Have I made terrible mistakes?” This is a question Alice asks herself on that fateful evening when she finally, at long last, speaks in her own voice…
This thoughtful book in an ordinary woman’s voice posed many philosophical questions—about the inner life of a marriage, but more importantly, what most probably could be an insider’s tale of a powerful union.