@BillClinton – I’d give this one a miss if I were you.
When I heard that Curtis Sittenfeld had written an alternate version of the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton -minus the Clinton, obviously- my first thought was that it was a really ballsy novel to try and pull off. Did she succeed?
A little bit, I guess?
If you’re unfamiliar with Hillary, she was a law professor who then became US secretary of state. Most notably, she was the lesser of two evils in the 2016 US presidential election, losing to old Donny himself (who makes some interesting cameos in the novel). She’s also the wife of former US President and sexual predator, Bill Clinton. In Rodham, Sittenfeld decided to omit that tiny detail, telling a fictionalised version of events where Hillary says ‘no thanks’.
“The margin between staying and leaving was so thin; really, it could have gone either way.”
First of all, it must be so bizarre to be Hillary Clinton – a living, breathing, still active politician – and have an author rewrite your entire life minus your husband. I’d like to point out that while I’m not necessarily a Hillary fan, it’s still a really weird reading experience.
I listened to a podcast where Sittenfeld was adamant that Rodham is literally a work of fiction, which it is – but only up to a point. So while the idea for the novel is really interesting and I’ve never read anything like it, I felt like I was invading someone’s privacy by reading an account of her sex life; a sex life that while technically ‘fictionalised’, is still grounded in reality. Weirdness aside though, people have always been very quick to criticise the real Hillary for staying with Bill, so Sittenfeld does a great job at giving us her side – even if it is imagined.
“You know when true equality will be achieved? When a woman with…skeletons in her closet has the nerve to run for office.”
Sittenfeld’s Hillary definitely does real Hillary justice. Hillary Rodham is as brilliant, clever and ambitious as Hillary Clinton; she just doesn’t have a big creep of a husband dragging her down. She’s also super raunchy; a clear attempt to destabilise misogynist perceptions of Hillary as uptight, boring and a ‘prude’ – and it works. I think Sittenfeld succeeds in breathing some life into a woman that has been vilified by both the right and the left for the majority of her adult life. Sittenfeld’s America remains realistic, though. She’s careful not to create some alternate universe where if Bill wasn’t on the scene, Hillary would have been American’s sweetheart, loved by all.
A lot of the novel is focused on Bill’s infidelities, the real-life accusations of multiple sexual assaults and the subsequent effect this has on Hillary. I’m glad that Sittenfeld dedicates so much of the book to the assaults because in the real world, Bill Clinton still gets away with it. But what I didn’t like was that even in a novel that claims to focus on what could have happened to Hillary without Bill, he remains at the centre of her universe anyway. It’s depressing. What’s that saying again? Something about living rent free…?
“I was mostly correct about the impeachment inquiry: It was often fascinating, though also sometimes boring as we pored over every word in a document or on the tapes Nixon had made of himself in the Oval Office.”Isn’t this sentence poorly written? Surely it’s not just me.
One of the things I couldn’t ignore, though, was that this is a badly edited (or written??) book. A lot of the time, Sittenfeld’s grammar and sentence structure just didn’t work for me at all. It’s really clunky and I was struggling to understand where she was going with it half the time because her sentences were arranged in such a way that it’s hard to keep track. It’s baffling that with a novel with this much publicity surrounding it, mistakes still slip through the net.
She also has this passage where she talks about her different ‘selves’; her ‘self’ with Bill, her ‘self’ before, her ‘self’ with her parents. This seems like a small thing to flag but I hate it. I’ve never read a piece where a writer talks about ‘selves’ and does it well. It cringes me out! It doesn’t sound good! It never works and sounds pretentious! My critic ‘self’ will die on this hill!
Anyway, Rodham gets three stars; it’s a fun idea but I think it could have been executed better.
Hillary should still dump him though.
If you want to read it for yourself, you can get Rodham here.