Rodham: What if Hillary hadn't Married Bill? by Curtis Sittenfeld
|Rodham: What if Hillary hadn't Married Bill? by Curtis Sittenfeld|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: The first third is lightly-fictionalised biography: the remaining two-thirds is excellent fiction which looks at what would have happened if Hillary had not married Bill. A very good read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 426||Date: May 2020|
|External links: Author's website|
I was tempted to read Rodham by the success of Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife. That book wasn't marketed as being a portrait of Laura Bush, but the word thinly-veiled seemed to occur very regularly in reviews. How would Rodham compare? Unfortunately, there is a difference: relatively little was known about Laura Bush, which gave the book a freshness which the first third of Rodham lacks. We've all heard the stories, read the books - about Hillary and particularly about Bill. It's still an interesting concept, though: how would Hillary have fared if she hadn't subsumed her own ambitions into Bill's career, if she hadn't had to carry the burden of all Bill's baggage and if she hadn't left her own run at the presidency so late? Could she have done better without the Clinton surname?
To call the first third of the book tedious would be going a little far (although the sex could come under that heading), but I'd heard most of it before. The fact of Hillary's speech at Wellesley in 1969 was relevant but did we need so much of the content? Rodham is lightly-fictionalised biography up to the point where Hillary, having accompanied Bill to Arkansas declines his second proposal. In real life she accepted on the third occasion: here she doesn't. It's after the factual Hillary gets into her car in Arkansas and the fictional counterpart drives away from Bill that the story really gains some traction. The margin between staying and leaving was so thin. Really, it could have gone either way. It's the perfect turning point in the lives of the two Hillarys.
There's no reason to suppose that the real Hillary didn't realise at a very early stage that Bill Clinton was promiscuous, that she could never expect exclusivity. As a result, we know of a woman who is intensely private, who has made her decisions and lived with them. The fictional Hillary is almost defined by a lack. She has no husband, no significant other and - most tellingly for me - no Chelsea. She campaigns, but her heart never seems to really be in it: she's campaigning only because she wants the power to achieve something for her countrymen and women. She dislikes fundraising but knows that she will need eye-watering sums of money if she is to make a run for the presidency. There's little pleasure in her driven life.
The writing is superb. Sittenfeld captures Hillary perfectly - in both incarnations - and I was surprised by the extent to which the fictional Hillary came off the page and convinced me. In places, the book is laugh-out-loud funny - particularly when Donald Trump makes an appearance. At other times I could have cried, particularly at the double standards and misogyny rampant in US politics. Sittenfeld weaves strands of the real Hillary's life into that of the fictional Hillary - and it's done with great skill. I'm not going to tell you how it works out, but I'll leave you to think about something. If Hillary hadn't married Bill, would Trump be president of the USA now?
Rather than reading the book, I listened to an audio download narrated by Carrington MacDuffie, which I bought myself. MacDuffie has a good range of voices and catches Hillary particularly well, to the extent that I was slightly surprised when I got to the end to find that life had worked out rather differently for us all.
Rodham stays just the right side of hagiography, as did HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.
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