27 February, 2011

Hail the First Lady

American Wife is the third novel from Curtis Sittenfeld, a writer whose previous books; Prep and The Man of My Dreams, I also loved. Despite the titles she had chosen for all her books, Sittenfeld is no Harlequin writer. She has won praised from the New York Times feared critic, Michiko Kakutani. Of course, in exception for Sittenfeld's American Wife. Which is why I decided to write this review.
After re-read New York's 9/11 review which was the supplementary reading during my favorite master class module last night, I become capable to understand why Michiko Kakutani claimed Sittenfeld has failed to create a more sympathetic character for President Blackwell, the impersonation of Bush the second. I happen to be a long time fan of Michael Moore, the director of Farenheith's 9/11 which was famous for his critics against Bush administration. Like any other of his works, from documentaries to books he wrote (which I collected back in Indonesia), Michael Moore works are colored by tendencies. As a writer Moroe is definitely hilarious, entertaining, comical, insightful, but I have watched Farenheit 9/11 three times and even though 9/11 could not be written any better (or can they?), the tendencies to show how Bush was an incompetent president were given without hinted subtlety. From viewing 9/11 we know that for Bush and the people around him, if the law would not affect their life personally, they would not care. By reading Moore's bestseller Stupid White Man, we furthermore know how incompetent and mediocre this former US president in his past. Toward the end of American Wife it becomes clear that Sittenfeld's writing has been affected by Moore critics and media exposure on Bush administration which she gathered to ends her novel. Kakutani wrote in the end of her review, that miss Sittenfeld's began using her heroine as a sock puppet for her own views on the unhappy tenure of Bush administration. At first I did not agree with this, I thought Sittenfeld has tried to give hints on why Alice Walker (or shall I say the former first lady of US, Laura Bush) love this man; his kindness, his sense of humor, how comforting it could be having him around.
As a young woman grew up in a middle class family from small suburb of Wisconsin, Alice Walker had close relationship with her grandmother which she later found has long time affair with Gladys Wycomb, a successful doctor in Chicago. Despite her shock of her mother sexual preference, Gladys was doing Alice favor by doing her abortion when Alice become pregnant at 16. The sub plot later developed when Alice's husband, Charlie, has become an incumbent president of United States. Gladys, despite her old age, threatened to go public with Alice abortion long time ago if President Walker administration attempts to support the nomination of right wing conservative Ingrid Sanchez as federal court judge. It is a convincing argument of the effect of anti abortion law to women who lives in poverty that Sittenfeld has made, and yet she has --in my opinion-- successfully made precise dialogue on Alice and Wycomb encounter. Yet, it is a very similar with Moore statement on Bush administration:
"You people just don't care, you don't care what it will do to others as long as it doesn't affect you!"

Despite this shining part of climax and her enjoyable writing style, Sittenfeld does go too far by creating circumstances of when Alice contemplating to leave her husband, she had a phone call from Charlie's mother, stating that all this time she thought Alice has married down by settling down with her son. Adding, "We could not understand what you possibly see in him..."
Well, despite the failure Sittenfeld (might) have done to keep her line inside her heroine's mind, what I miss more from this book is the absence of difficult details Sittenfeld had seemingly chosen to pass. How short and fast pace the parts of Laura cope from her abortion, how she dismiss the part when Laura could finally understand her grandmother's sexuality, and why oh why should there is this part of her dreaming her childhood love Andrew Imhof if the love of her life supposed to be Charlie? Moreover, how come, despite his famous foolishness and incompetency amongst their circle of friends and family, Charlie Walker ran for governor and then US Presidency? Wouldn't that be an interesting detail to explore for this book? Sittenfeld was clearly avoiding parts where she would have to give Charlie Walker a break from his dim character she described in her entire book.
Maybe Sittenfeld, with her liberal view and atheism has forgotten to put hold her dislikes and antipathy toward her former president and doing her first job as a writer; to bury her disliking and figuring on how her characters can be one fragile human in this vicious world of pretenders. Her attempts were successful in several parts, but she later failed to hide it further when it comes to the issue she is passionate the most. How she had chosen to end her novel with Alice dreaming of her childhood love is disappointing.
Like anyone with an open mind and who did lots of mistake in her life, me too is a liberal, yet it seems necessary to remind miss Sittenfeld the very first law of liberalism that is; we believe that every living soul in this landscape of earth must be given their right to choose, to live their life freely as they pleased without notion. Thusly when you were trying too hard given notion on atheism (which she abruptly slipped several times too many times), you become no different with the people you were criticizing (right wing conservative). You left them without freedom to choose their own position while trying hard to convince them to be on your side.