I will preface this review by saying that I very much admire Curtis Sittenfeld’s work… But Rodham was not the book for me.
In summary, the novel is a ‘sliding doors’ look at Hillary Clinton’s life, and what might have happened had she not married Bill, and instead ‘remained’ Hillary Rodham. Sittenfeld gives Hillary a career as a law professor and a successful life in politics, but these things come at a cost – she has no family of her own, and few intimate relationships.
The story exposes the double-standards between male and female politicians, imposed by the public, the media, and society in general.
…complaints about sexism were perceived as sour grapes. Proof was elusive, situations subject to interpretation.
Personality traits acceptable in men are not so in women (for example, being ambitious, confident or ‘outspoken’).
In my youth, I had respected my father’s intelligence, not recognizing how much sharper my mother’s was because hers was concealed by being pleasant and female.
Commentary on appearance and social conduct is standard for women, whereas men have greater freedom.
Sometimes I think I’ve made so few mistakes that the public can remember all of them, in contrast to certain male politicians whose multitude of gaffes and transgressions gets jumbled in the collective imagination, either negated by one another or forgotten in the onslaught. The less you screw up, the more clearly the public keeps track of each error.
Given the obvious point being made about double-standards, I was flummoxed by the inclusion of so many details about Hillary’s appearance – do I really need to know that Hilary always wears pop-socks under heels? Or the colour and cut of her suit? The purpose may have been to normalise Hillary but instead, she comes across as flat. In the past, Sittenfeld has so been thorough in exploring the interior world of her characters but I never got past the surface of Hillary – maybe writing a fictional story about a living person who’s in the public eye is simply too tricky?
Much has been made of the sex scenes in this book – I didn’t find them as icky as some readers, although I’ll never ‘un-see’ Bill Clinton playing saxophone in the nude (which made me think also of this guy, and it still makes me laugh).
The highlight of the novel is Sittenfeld’s examination of infidelity. She explores the ‘dilemma’ (‘he’ll change’ versus ‘we’re over’) with an exactness that I think is more representative of the caliber of her writing than the rest of the book.
And even if I’d decided to trust him, there were indications that others didn’t.
As Hillary wrestles with whether to stay with Bill or break off their relationship (‘…the margin between staying and leaving was so thin…’) we see her rational and methodical approach to decision-making in conflict with her heart, and her gut instinct –
I could escape very quickly, it seemed, or never, and I wanted to do both.
I respect Sittenfeld’s concept but ultimately this book got bogged down by too much irrelevant detail, particularly about the American presidential race (which confirmed for me that a) it’s a popularity contest; and b) it’s an obscene waste of money; and c) no compulsory voting cements the issue that it’s a popularity contest for people with obscene amounts of money).
2.5/5 I rounded up to a three on Goodreads because how good was You Think It, I’ll Say It?
In Washington, the reunion dinner was loud and festive, and an attorney’s wife had made so-called Watergate salad, which featured pistachio pudding mix, crushed pineapple, and marshmallows.
Watergate salad sounds like an abomination to me… I don’t understand it at all. Is it a dessert?
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 26): Belfast 12°-18° and Melbourne 5°-12°.