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Sun May 17, 2020, 10:36 PM

"Rodham", a book about what if Hillary did not marry Bill

An interesting interview with the author:

After Curtis Sittenfeld wrote “American Wife” — her fictionalized portrait of a woman who strongly resembled Laura Bush — editors started asking her to write essays about women in politics. Specifically, Hillary Clinton. She turned them all down. “I didn’t think I had anything new to say,” Sittenfeld said in a recent interview via Zoom. “I thought to write a piece about what Hillary means, or about Hillary and feminism — it didn’t feel like there’s anything I could say that hadn’t already been said repeatedly.” But then along came an editor at Esquire magazine. He didn’t ask for an essay — he asked for a short story. A piece of fiction, told from Hillary’s point of view. Now that was intriguing.


Bill Clinton plays a huge role. Donald Trump is a minor character. The whole novel is loaded with people right out of the pages of the newspaper. “Because ‘Rodham’ diverges from reality I felt comfortable using real names,” Sittenfeld said. “That was a decision I had to make. You could start ‘Rodham’ and think this is based on real life. But there’s no way you could finish it and think that.”

The first quarter or so of the book follows the real Hillary’s life pretty closely. Character Hillary has a passionate affair with Bill Clinton (yes, the book has a lot of sex scenes), whom she meets at Yale Law School. She moves with him to Arkansas. But then — then — around page 150, Hillary turns down Bill’s proposal of marriage, moves back up north, and the whole rest of “Rodham” flows straight from Sittenfeld’s fertile imagination.

To get to the personality of Hillary, Sittenfeld said, she first plunged into the writing, but quickly realized she needed to do more research. She read biographies, Clinton’s own memoirs, and books by other women who had run for office in 2016, including Amy Klobuchar. Several themes emerged, including the tension between public and private lives, love and marriage, the impossible standards our society puts on successful women, and the way we tend to equate a woman with her husband.


In the Hulu documentary “Hillary,” which Sittenfeld watched after finishing her novel, “she talks about being in a lot of male-dominated environments such as law school and working in a law firm where not being very emotional was seen as an asset. “And then the decades passed and she’s accused of being insufficiently emotional. I do think that we ask something impossible of female candidates and maybe any high-profile women.


As might be expected in a novel about Bill Clinton, he and Hillary have sex. A lot of sex. In bedrooms, in motels, in moving cars. And since both characters are based on real people who, presumably, also had a lot of sex, it can give those parts of the book a bit of a voyeuristic feeling... The novel, which is narrated by Hillary, begins this way: “The first time I saw him, I thought he looked like a lion.” There is no mistaking who she is talking about — the fictitious Bill Clinton is larger than life, charming, brilliant, needy, manipulative and, yes, sexy.


Sittenfeld has not met Hillary or Bill — or Trump, for that matter. But she is pretty sure she would like Hillary if she met her. “She’s a good listener, she’s prepared for any situation, she’s done her research, she’s funny, she has this warm laugh. “The reality is — and people might think I’m not cynical enough — she has spent a lot of her life trying to make circumstances better for people, especially women and children, and I would say she’s done so at personal cost. And to have all this crazy anger and criticism directed at you — this feels like, if I were her, I think I would have said to hell with all of you.

“There are times when I think we were unworthy of her.”



And on the next page there is a scathing review. Oh well.

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