“You’re awfully opinionated for a girl.“
Curtis Sittenfeld ~ Rodham
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail – one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the trade-offs all of us must make in building a life.
As someone who doesn’t know much about American politics, the only reason I was vaguely interested in the 2016 election was because I was rooting for Hillary. Not just because (if I had to choose) I’d have more in common with the democrats, but because it would have been very interesting to have a female president.
Curtis Sittenfeld has combined fact and fiction to show us what might have happened if Hillary had never married Bill. It’s a fascinating concept and gripped me from the beginning.
Part I looks at Hillary’s youth, particularly her time at Yale when she meets Bill. Sittenfeld’s writing is engaging and I honestly thought I’d read the whole book in one sitting. There’s a lot of sex in this section, but it’s well done and supports the storyline. Both Hillary and Bill are likeable characters and Hillary comes across as a fiery and determined.
Unfortunately Part II (despite being the shortest section) is much slower. After Hillary refuses to marry Bill, they go their separate ways. Not a lot happens in this part of the book, but it skips back and forth over a number of years and it’s a bit confusing. It’s also quite sad that Hillary hasn’t found someone during this time, which does raise questions as to the author’s motives. I’d have preferred her to be in a supportive relationship or happily single, rather than what feels like a woman pining for her first real love. Hardly a ‘strong, independent woman’…
I admit I put the book down for a couple of days at this point, because it was borderline dull and I wasn’t interested.
Eventually I picked it up again and made it to Part III which returns to the faster pace. The writing also reverts to its compelling style and engaging characters; once again I was invested in the story.
Rodham is a good book with strong characters to whom the author’s words have done justice. However it feels a bit bland in places. I feel that the author played it very safe with the parallel life; although this made it very believable, it lacked impact. The ending was expected but could’ve been a little bit more exciting. It’s a huge deal, but the writing felt a little reserved.
Overall it’s very enjoyable but unfortunately the middle section lets down what could have been a 5 star read.
I was provided with a copy by Penguin. All opinions my own.
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