Thursday, June 4, 2020

Book Review: Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld

At Wellesley, I'd once babysat for a professor's nine-year-old daughter, and she'd said as I was putting her to bed, "Tell me a story that's long, interesting, and hilarious." Having Bill as my boyfriend, loving Bill, felt like living inside such a story.

I'm a huge fan of Curtis Sittenfeld's books—I've reviewed Eligible and You Think It, I'll Say It on here, but Prep was one of my all-time favorite books for a long time—so I was excited to read this one. I also LOVE "parallel universe" books—where one or two things change, and thus a person's life or all of history is changed—and that's what you get here, in a universe where Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.

I read a political book a while ago called Christian Nation that I never forgot about, where McCain won the 2008 election instead of Obama and then dropped dead a few months in, and Sarah Palin became president; Rodham reminded me of that, a little bit, in that one or two tweaks changed a person's entire life.

In real life, Bill Clinton apparently proposed to Hillary three times, and she said no the first two times, but accepted on the third time. In this book, she does accept; but once she finds out about his philandering ways, and he says that this is an unchangeable fact about him, she breaks off the engagement. He eventually becomes a tech mogul in California and she heads into politics, but they end up meeting again in the political world later on in the novel. 

I had a prediction that ended up being true about the 2016 election featured in the book (no spoilers, but I'll say that Trump was not the Republican candidate), and although it wasn't a plot twist, it was a great idea by the author. 

I love "parallel universe" types of books and this was definitely a good one. I had just watched Hillary on Hulu, as well, so her history with Bill Clinton was fresh in my mind, and it was interesting to see how Sittenfeld twisted Rodham's life history after she declines Clinton's marriage proposal; some things stay the same (Obama/Biden still won in 2008 and 2012, for example) but other things were different, especially who wins the '92 election and a few others. 

4.5/5 stars.

Click here to purchase.


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