Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review

I spent a deal of this weekend, my last before classes actually take up again, reading Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, which I had only vaguely heard of before I found it on the Pork Smith's public library's new book shelf (we only get about six new books a month, so it's very exciting when one shows up). I had read Sittenfeld's Prep, way back when, and not liked it all that much (whiny rich kid books bore me, and that's basically what that is, even if she pretends she's not actually a rich kid).

But I read six or ten pages of this, standing in the library, and it kept me reading, so I took it home. I was about halfway through it, I swear, before I realized, my shit, this is supposed to be Laura Bush.

It's an engaging book, though not especially because of the political aspects -- the apologia of Laura Bush/W. isn't that convincing or that interesting. (Sittenfeld describes her "Laura" as a closet liberal who is just keeping quiet to stand by her man.)

What's interesting about the text is the apologia of the Rich. In a way, this reminds me of Fitzgerald's motives, although in other ways not so much. Fitzgerald, I think, loved the wealthy -- no, well, I think he held them in a kind of existential esteem: they were, for him, what kings or Lords had been to an early sort of humanity. (I dated a guy who held the monarchy in this kind of awe: he believed that blood conferred not just status, but a different order of being. People who came of "upper-class" blood were a different and better kind of human than other sorts of humans.)

I don't think Sittenfeld thinks about the hyper-rich like that. She does think of them as a different sort of being, though, and she's intensely curious about why they can think/live the way they do, in a kind of WTF way that comes across much more clearly in this book than it did in Prep.

Rich people are bizarre, her character Alice says, at one point in the books. (Nor is it just that they have more money, pace Ernest H.) No, that insulation of immense wealth changes everything for that top, what is it, .01 percent at the top. This book does an excellent job of looking at how and why -- and how and why George W. could fuck up the job so badly, too, incidentally: but that's not why I'd recommend it. I'd recommend it so you can see, as Sittenfeld as seen, why those tools at the top, can believe the incredible things they can believe, despite the world we all live in.

It's also interesting from a feminist POV, though Alice is far from a feminist. But that's an entirely different review.

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