The New York Times Bestseller runs to 637 pages, begins with melodrama, and ends with the tragedy that is George W Bush and the war in Iraq. Only, of course, this isn’t President Bush. This is fiction. President Blackwell is in the White House. It’s June 2007. His wife Alice Blackwell nee Lindgren narrates how he got there, traveling back through time and place to four different addresses — 1272 Amity Lane, 3859 Sproule Street, 402 Maronee Drive and finally, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Alice Blackwell Lindgren tells the reader ‘I didn’t vote for Charlie for president. I did vote for him both times for governor.’ Alice is not a Yes man. In fact she’s a very attractive woman. The paperback cover shows her sitting on an old-fashioned bicycle, dressed modestly in a dark skirt and blouse, but with a bit of leg showing on the up step of the pedal, with what looks like a farmhouse in the background and acres of sky. I was thinking of Jackie Kennedy (although she did look like a fish) – and certainly the Blackwell’s families antics when they met up each year had me thinking of the Kennedy rather than the Bush clan, but I can’t claim to know much about either. Certainly as the book progresses it becomes obvious it’s George.
Alice loves her husband, but she doesn’t believe he can quit drinking. His family and friends think Charlie is a bit of a joke. And Dr Wycomb, Gladys Wycombe, Alice’s grannies secret love, who was in her mind ‘less a person than a destination, far away, yet not entirely familiar,’ tells her ‘those elections were fixed…and you’re a puppet’.
What makes the book shine is the author’s love of books. The fictional Alice is a school librarian. She was not born to be a First Lady. ‘In 1954,’ Alice the narrator tells the reader, ‘the summer before I entered third grade, my grandmother mistook Andrew Imhof for a girl.’ Alice loves Andrew and Andrew loves Alice. Knowing the nature of the book the reader is lulled into thinking this is a poor man works his way up to greatness and gains the most powerful position in the world, but Sittenfeld knows how stories work and not an image or word is wasted.
I vote for Sittenfeld for President. She’s a great man and a fantastic writer.