‘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.
How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?
Who was, is Hilary Clinton, or should that be Hilary Rodham. There is the public face, the one we see on the news, on social media, but how did she get to where she is today, a figure head in American politics, a woman who got so close to being the first woman President.
Now we know all about her marriage to Bill Clinton, but what if she hadn’t married him, what would our opinion of her and indeed her life have been like? Sittenfeld took this as her starting point and worked her way backwards to a Hilary still at University, a student in the midst of the feminist movement as they pushed themselves further up the career ladder.
Sittenfeld, gave us the impression that Hilary was one of a kind, resolutely focused, awkward in her relationships with the opposite sex, acutely aware her looks would not bag her the handsome man so many craved. Yet it was something she felt she did want, her brusque nature a barrier, but more importantly her intelligence seemed to scare them, men unused to a woman who could debate and compete on a level playing field.
It was her happiness in her relationship with the young Bill Clinton that delighted you, at last a man who accepted her on her own terms, in fact relished her intelligence and found her hugely attractive. Would she follow him as he chased his dream of becoming Senator of Arkansas and ultimately President?
Sittenfeld made you feel the electricity that existed between them, as you wondered if Hilary could settle for life as the other half, if love did indeed outweigh everything else. But that was what so great about Sittenfeld’s Hilary, she was a woman who resisted the urge to settle just for love, she wanted more, unwilling to accept Bill’s sexual failings, unwilling to be second best.
It made me cheer silently and that was indeed when the novel took a truly interesting turn. Hilary on her own, her drive to succeed took over and Sittenfeld brilliantly showcased an American political world that was mired in intrigue, in deals with surprising and recognisable characters. It made my mind whirl as I contemplated the what if’s, the realisation that it was all one game, of who held the power of information, who held their nerve, was patient as they bided their time, waited for that one perfect moment.
I loved Sittenfeld’s version of Bill Clinton, charismatic, ultimately a sexual sleeze machine, selfish, superficial, a real sense of his own importance. He wasn’t someone I liked, his attitudes towards women repugnant, almost as if Sittenfeld had lifted the lid on the real Bill Clinton the one that many chose to ignore instead hoodwinked by his charm and affable nature.
Other well known characters made a guest appearance, their actions and relationship with Hilary a little surprising but a brilliant twist on reality!
There was so much to Rodham, so much to admire in Sittenfelds narrative, themes and characters. The ultimate question she left me with, was has the real Hilary Rodham read it and what did she think about herself as she appeared in Sittenfelds world.
I would like to Doubleday for a copy of Rodham to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Curtis Sittenfeld pulls no punches in her scathing and hilarious indictments of the American middle classes. Her Sunday Times bestselling novel American Wife was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep. Her other books include The Man of My Dreams, Sisterland, Eligible, the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It and her latest novel Rodham. Her stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and the New York Times magazine. Sittenfeld is also the guest editor for the 2020 Best American Short Stories anthology. She lives with her family in the American Mid-West. Follow her on Twitter @CSittenfeld