American Wife is one hell of a book. First of all, it's a commitment. It's almost 600 pages. Considering that it's decent quality writing, that's quite a substantial chunk of text. The book is split up into four sections, which are then split up into main story lines and current events interspersed with smaller vignettes relating to the matter at hand. If you're familiar with Sittenfeld's other work; Prep and The Man of My Dreams, it seems to be her standard format.
The protagonist in American Wife, Alice Blackwell, is loosely based on Laura Bush, but is also not unlike the main characters in her previous novels. I've read both of her previous books this year, so it's impossible for me to take this one completely at face value. All that considered, I thought this was a great book, much better than her last two. Prep was a bit of a struggle to get through, but her style was a bit unlike anything else I'd ever read. Once I knew what I was getting into, I liked each book after that even more. American Wife could be taken alone, I'm sure, but for full enjoyment, I'd recommend reading the other two first.
What was great about American Wife was that I didn't expect to buy into the story the way I did. How does one find oneself married to a man like George W. Bush and still remain a sympathetic character?
The book begins with that question in a way. Alice is in bed with her husband in the White House, wondering how her life has become what it is. The book travels into the past where a traumatic incident changes Alice's life and completely shapes what it will become. Even knowing the inevitable, I found it impossible not to wonder how it would all play out. It was all more interesting that I expected.
I'm not doing this book justice. It's hard to cover that much story without revealing anything that would ruin Alice revealing it for you. It's worth it to leave that up to her.