Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 17)

#BestsellerCode100: Our Thoughts on Novels 100 to 54

Having finished novels 100 to 54, Karen and I are nearly half way through The Bestseller Code list of 100 bestsellers. We’ve decided to summarize our results so far in a Q and A format. (Links go to our reviews and landing pages).

What was your favorite and least favorite book from the list, and why?

Roberta:  My least favorite book from the list is the easiest to pick. I despised the main character in Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young so much I couldn’t get past the first part.

My favorite is more difficult. If I disregard the three authors I had already read and knew I enjoyed (The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert GalbraithThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson, and anything by John Sandford), my favorite that I discovered by reading the list is The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison.  I loved the sparse language and the ability of the author to keep readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending was revealed in the second paragraph. Or was it?

 

That said, I had several close runner ups.

Karen:  My least favorite book was the same as Roberta’s, Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, for much the same reasons.  I only finished the book because I wanted to see if it would ever improve (it did not).  The main character was so horrible that you had no sympathy or empathy for him and the second portion of the book read more like science fiction rather than Christian fiction.  It was a total waste of my time.

Two other books deserve dishonorable mention in the “least favorite category” – The Klone and I by Danielle Steel and The Choice by Nicholas Sparks.

I had several favorite books and really could not choose just one.  It was a three-way tie for first place between Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, And The Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini, and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  They all fall in the Historical Fiction genre, so it’s no surprise they were my favorites.  Each gave me insight into specific events and time periods, leading me to do more research on my own.  It didn’t hurt that the writing by each author was excellent, with fully developed characters, great descriptions, and moving story lines.  Enjoyable all the way around.

 

 

I had a two-way tie for second place between The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larrson and The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf.  One is a suspense novel, the other Crime/Mystery/Thriller.  Both of these books kept me up way too late at night reading!

Two books deserve special mention because I find that when reviewing the list of books read, I remember absolutely nothing about them — Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  They were that unmemorable.

Has this reading challenge changed your reading selection process?

 Roberta:  If anything, it has made me less interested in picking up a bestseller. The words “bestselling author” on the cover aren’t as impressive as they once were, and instead I look for careful, reasoned reviews and recommendations of readers I trust.

Karen:  Where before my fiction selections were usually historical fiction and spy thrillers, I find I now also look for crime/mystery/detective novels.  I especially enjoyed Easy Prey by John Sandford and have begun reading that complete series.  And, as Roberta stated above, I’m less interested in a book if it is a bestseller.  I also disliked most of the novels that had won any sort of literary award.

As a writer, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has helped your own writing?

Roberta:  That is a great question.

Rather than learning any specific writing techniques, I learned that many of the best novelists break all sorts of “rules.” For example, there were novels (like Lovely Bones) that began with the highest level of drama instead of having the standard rising conflict with a climax at the end. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larson had pages of solid dialogue without a single dialogue tag. Some of the authors did more telling than showing. The bottom line is good storytelling is about more than simply following certain conventions.

I have also discovered that writing with a distinctive voice is something to strive for. I tend to try to play it safe, tamp down my voice, and keep to norms. The best novels turn the norms upside down.

For a few of the novels, the storytelling was so smooth and effortless, the writing disappeared from my consciousness. I was completely engrossed and hardly realized I was reading. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but I’d love to be able to achieve it.

As a reader, what have you gleaned from doing this challenge that has impacted your reading?

Karen:  This challenge has broadened my scope of reading genres and exposed me to new authors I might not have discovered on my own.  It’s also led me to the realization that I don’t need to require myself to finish reading a book if it is not up to my expectations.  There are a lot of mediocre books out there, even if they are bestsellers, and so if it’s not working for me early on, I can set it aside and move on.

What has surprised you most about the books we’ve read?

Roberta:  I was surprised how many of the novels I didn’t like or felt were poorly written, especially some of the ones that won literary prizes. Naively, I thought bestsellers would appeal to a broad range of readers and so I’d like the majority on the list. Now I realize novels might make the bestseller lists through marketing, luck, or good timing rather than because they have superior writing or storytelling.

That said, I also admit that forcing myself to read the books during a two week window for the challenge might also have soured me to some of the books. I wasn’t always in the mood to read a particular genre when it was assigned.

Karen:  Again, like Roberta, I experienced surprise at how many truly awful books make the bestseller list (public acclaim) or receive awards (literary acclaim).  Two examples are Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Either that, or my tastes run completely opposite those of the general reading public and/or literary prize committees.

Have you learned anything about what makes a novel a bestseller from reading the list so far?

Roberta:  The main take away I’ve had so far is that it isn’t the quality of writing that makes a novel a bestseller, but having a fresh perspective and/or a fresh story that really makes them stand out. Readers seem to like a bit of novelty, for example books about a zombie apocalypse (World War Z by Max Brooks), a love story featuring a quadriplegic main character (Me Before You by JoJo Moyes),  a novel told from the perspective of a dog (The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein) or from the perspective of a dead girl (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold).

Having a distinctive voice also helps.

Karen: Besides having a loyal fan base that will snatch up your newest release without waiting for a review and thus potentially creating a bestseller when it should have been a dud?

Two things stand out in the bestsellers that I’ve truly enjoyed:

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What are we reading next?

We’re taking a break until November.

We have decided to take a short hiatus from the Bestseller 100 Challenge. Both of us have other commitments and aren’t able to put in the time and attention the project requires.   We will be sure to let you know when we start this challenge back up so you can read along with us.   The second half of the 100 Book List includes some of our favorite (and some very popular) authors, such as J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult, and Tom Clancy.  We hope you will join us at that time.

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of Testimony by Anita Shreve

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Testimony by Anita Shreve, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When the headmaster of Avery Academy receives a video of three of his older male students engaged in sexual acts with an underage girl, he is shocked. What will be the consequences for the students involved and for the school, which is already struggling? How did this happen and what should he do about it?

Plot/Format

This novel has an unusual format in many ways. First of all, instead of the standard rising conflict, the author presents the highest level of drama — the most intense scene — in the first chapter. All the following chapters cover either the acts that gave rise to the event or the results from it. It is like a mirror is shattered in the first scene and the rest of the book is about trying to reassemble the pieces.

The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, some of whom are closer to the sex scandal than others.  At times the diversity of viewpoints is excessive and unnecessary, for example when Natalie the lunch lady at the school or the town boy named Daryl, who sells alcohol to minors, get their say.

To her credit, Anita Shreve uses an unnamed researcher from the university to instigate some of the “testimony” and tie together the pieces with the finest of threads. The book might have been stronger, however, if the researcher was more concrete and pulled the pieces together more tightly.

Each chapter also varies in point of view. For example, the first chapter with Mike the headmaster is in third person. The second scene (by Ellen, Rob’s mom) is told in second person. Sienna, the underage girl, narrates in first person.

Characters

Because Anita Shreve tells the story from multiple perspectives, it isn’t clear who the protagonist is. The reader learns the most about one of the boys named Silas; what his motives were and what happened to him.

A case could also be made that Mike, the headmaster of the school who views the video, is the main character, especially since he’s the character we meet first. On the other hand, his actions also instigated much of what happened to Silas.

 

Photo of a house in Vermont by Mariamichelle via Visualhunt.com

Setting

The setting is a private school in Vermont. It adds atmosphere, but the story could have been placed anywhere and still had the same impact.

Discussion

A test for the greatness of any novel is how well it remains relevant over time. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the #MeToo era,  how Shreve treats the three young males who get drunk and sexually assault an underage girl seems tipped towards sympathy for the boys. The girl is presented at times as a willing participant, or at the very least less of a victim, than the boys. That perspective feels outdated.

Overall, although the construction of the novel was intriguing, the themes didn’t work for me. I had to work to finish the novel because I didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters.

 

Join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) – Discussion begins August 20, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a summary of Testimony, please check out its introductory post.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

General Thoughts

I had high hopes for Testimony. Its genre – mystery/suspense – is one that I usually enjoy reading. But there was very little of either mystery or suspense in this novel. The biggest question was what ultimately happened to Silas, because it was obvious that he was the most vulnerable character in this story. But by the time the big reveal came along, I had really ceased to care. The story dragged on too long and centered too much on the headmaster’s affair and not enough on the students caught on the pivotal sex tape.

Misleading Title

The title, Testimony, led me to believe there would be a legal trial, but instead the word referred to recollections of the events given to an outside interviewer by each of the characters. We never meet this outside interviewer; we only hear vague references to the initial letter this person sent to each character.

The headmaster’s chapters were the longest, with the most details, and yet his story was not told to the interviewer, but instead told as he wrote his own “memoir.” None of this worked from me – it felt too much like a writing device rather than the way a real story would flow.

Female Provocateur

As a female author, I expected Shreve to develop multi-dimensional female characters, but the few females in this book were hardly that. I was especially disappointed in Shreve’s development of Sienna, the 14-year-old female student involved in the sex tape. She gave us just enough “testimony” to dislike the girl and feel sympathy for the male students who were obviously ensnared, but no insight into the reasons behind the girl’s actions, family life, or childhood.

As an introduction to Anita Shreve, Testimony left me with no desire to read any of her other novels. I can only assume it made the New York Times Bestseller list based upon Shreve’s loyal readers and the popularity of previous novels.

If you have an Anita Shreve novel that you can recommend, please let me know.  Surely as a bestselling author, she has written better novels than Testimony.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) – Discussion begins August 20, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 54 Testimony by Anita Shreve

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Testimony by Anita Shreve.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Testimony* by Anita Shreve

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When the headmaster of Avery Academy receives a video of his students engaged in sexual acts with an underage girl, he is shocked. What will be the consequences for the students involved and for the school, which is already struggling? How did this happen and what should he do about it?

Have you read Testimony by Anita Shreve? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about Testimony by Anita Shreve? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 53. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) – Discussion begins August 20, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is a collection of loosely-connected short stories and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.  Roberta wrote an excellent Writer’s Review, so if you haven’t already, please check it out.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Difficult Read

 I found A Visit from the Goon Squad to be a difficult read for a couple of reasons.  First was just timing – our six-year-old granddaughter spent a few fun but time-consuming days with us, which included two overnight treks to Arkansas on each end of her visit.  Needless to say, I had zero time to do any reading those eight days.  I had started Goon Squad the week before, but found it slow going and only got through the first 2 chapters before that 8 day interlude.

Picking it back up after our granddaughter’s visit, I still found it slow going along with being really confused about the change of characters in each new chapter/short story.  Which is the second reason I found it difficult to read – I just didn’t care for the format. Several times I almost gave up on it, but I continued slogging through and finished it Friday.

Mixed Feelings

I did like the book better towards the end, especially the last two chapters / short stories, but I certainly didn’t love it like Roberta did.  At the end, I had many more questions than answers, and still wasn’t sure how all the characters were interconnected, nor could I even remember all the characters.  It’s one of those books that leaves you feeling that you need to turn right around and read it again.

Time Is a Goon

The Bestseller Code showed us that the title of a novel is often an important component of predicting a bestseller.  A Visit from the Goon Squad moves backwards and forwards across a 40-year time span, which I found added to the confusing nature of the writing format.  It takes a while to catch the references to time being a goon, and much of the focus of Egan’s novel centers upon how the characters cope with the changes that the passage of time brings to themselves and their world.

The very last chapter takes place in a futuristic, post-war-on-terror New York City in 2020, and even though we are almost to that date now, it’s a scary thought that we are on the path to becoming the digital world Egan writes about.

Usually when I’m done reviewing a book for our reading challenge, I delete the book from my Kindle.  I’m not going to do that with A Visit from the Goon Squad.  Instead, I’ll be saving it to read again, carefully choosing a time when I have a clear schedule.  Roberta’s idea of a flow chart for the characters is genius and one I plan to implement. I expect then that I will more fully appreciate Egan’s unconventional writing style and format.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Let’s take a look at our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Written as a collection of loosely-related short stories, the novel centers on two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha.

A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

Characters

As to be expected from a prize-winning novel, the characters are diverse and well-developed.  Because of the sheer numbers of characters and because they pop up here and there in the stories, I found creating a flow chart with names and role summaries helped keep them straight.

Sasha is a bright young woman with an interest in  music who also is a kleptomaniac. She works for Bennie, a big wig in the music industry who is struggling with his divorce from Stephanie. Stephanie works for Dolly at La Doll PR firm and her brother is Jules Jones, who attacked a young movie star named Kitty Jackson and was sent to prison. Later Dolly recruits Kitty to help clean up a bad guy’s image. Dolly’s daughter Lulu becomes Bennie’s assistant after Sasha leaves to marry Drew Blake. Yes, the stories are that convoluted.

solar panels

Setting

Most of the stories take place in New York City, but both the settings and timeline hop around.  In addition, some of the settings are more pronounced than others.  For example, Lou and his family go on safari in South Africa, which is described in detail. Toward the end Sasha ends up living in a “desert” next to some large solar arrays and her daughter describes it lyrically, but with only the briefest of phrases in a chapter that consists of the images of slides from a slideshow.

Symbolism and Subtle Messages

All the while the stories are skipping from place to place, the author is leaving clues and subtle messages. The reader has to be alert and observant to keep up. For example, when Dolly takes her daughter Lulu on a dangerous trip, Lulu bites into a starfruit, an act which is “ripe” with symbolism. Sasha’s relationship with her stepfather and uncle also suggested some deeper meaning, although the issue was always skirted. Alex, who never really caught on that Sasha had stolen a woman’s wallet during their date, is trapped in an apartment with a view that is being eclipsed by construction.

Discussion

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a multi-layered tapestry. It shows how lives can be intertwined and how acquaintances — the six degrees of separation idea — can lead to deeper connections to others. It also reveals how seemingly random encounters can drastically change lives.

Personally, I found it fun and exciting to read. I can’t imagine how Jennifer Egan kept all the different threads of stories straight while she was writing, but she does an amazing job. I will definitely read this book again and look for more novels by this author.

Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: Number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Written like a collection of loosely-knit short stories, the novel centers on two characters, a recording executive named Bennie and his employee, Sasha. The stories move through different times and settings.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.

 

Have you read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 54. Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008) – Discussion begins August 6, 2018
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  I first read American Wife in 2012 and enjoyed the book then, so I was curious to discover if I still liked it.  I’m delighted to report that it was just as a good a read the second time through.  Sittenfeld has a real knack for writing dialogue and I was soon transported away to the world of Alice Blackwell.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Roberta’s Writer’s Review pretty much sums up my take on American Wife, so I thought instead I’d briefly outline Curtis Sittenfeld’s novels, which I have added to my reading list.

Female Protagonists

 All of Sittenfeld’s novels and collections of short stories have female protagonists.  She writes from experience (in the case of Prep) and also seems to enjoy fictionalizing and/or updating famous women or books (American Wife, Eligible).

  • Prep, (2005) – a coming of age story centered around a girl from the midwest, Lee Flora, who attends a preppy boarding school on the East Coast.
  • The Man of My Dreams, (2006) – follows Hannah from 8th grade thru her college years at Tufts and into her late twenties.
  • American Wife, (2008) – Alice Blackwell’s life from childhood in a small, Midwestern town, to her years in the White House as President Charlie Blackwell’s wife. Loosely inspired by the life of First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Sisterland, (2013) – the story of Kate, an identical twin, who has psychic powers.
  • Eligible, (2016) – the modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It, (2018) – a collection of short stories, including “The Nominee,” about Hillary Clinton as she is just about to accept the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Sittenfeld is currently working on her next novel, one inspired by her short story, “The Nominee.”  Sittenfeld described it in an interview with The Guardian:

I’m actually writing a novel now about Hillary Clinton, which I think I was partly influenced to do by writing “The Nominee.” The premise is: what if Hillary had met Bill at Yale Law School in the early 70s – which she did – they had fallen in love, become a couple but then she made the decision not to marry him. Yeah… what if?

Yeah, what if?  I’ll be watching for that book to come out! 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of American Wife

Let’s take a look at American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld from a writer’s perspective.

This post may contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the author admits her main character is modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush.

The Cover

I don’t usually comment on the cover, but this one is striking. It shows a woman wearing a beautiful full length wedding dress. Laura Bush didn’t wear anything like it when she got married, however, and it also isn’t what Sittenfeld writes that ever practical Alice wore. Pretty dress, but doesn’t truly reflect the story inside.

The Writing

Because my perspective as a writer, I tend to dissect books as I read them and it takes me out of the story. For example, for our last book I noticed right away that E. L. James described her main character looking in a mirror, which is not considered to be best writing practice. For American Wife, however, the writing disappeared into the background and I became fully engrossed. It is high praise when the reader doesn’t notice the writing and it becomes simply a vessel for the storytelling.

The few times I did notice the writing was when the word choice — slang in dialogue — seemed too modern for the earlier time. But that was only a word or two.

How did Curtis Sittenfeld achieve such seamless writing? First of all, by choosing the first person voice.  The first person draws the reader in by allowing full access to the main character’s thoughts and feelings. It worked well.

Sittenfeld also has a gift for storytelling. She frames the work with a scene in the White House where Alice reflects our her life with her husband, the president. From there, she crafts the story in chronological order as events in Alice’s life unfold. Although it has been labeled as a bildungsroman (coming of age story or about growing from youth to adult), it is the inherent conflict between a serious, quiet wife and a jovial, extroverted husband is central to moving the plot forward.

Some people were shocked that the author included explicit sex scenes, as well as a less-than-flattering bathroom scene. At first it did seem out of character when portraying someone who exhibits such decorum in public. But, the author’s goal was to make Alice seem realistic — like a living, breathing woman– and real women do have sex and have embarrassing moments in bathrooms.

Public domain image of Wisconsin

Setting

Although Sittenfeld uses many details from Laura Bush’s life in American Wife, she chose to deviate with the setting. Instead of living in Texas, the whole fictional clan is from Wisconsin. Why did she choose Wisconsin? The author grew up in Ohio and was living in St. Louis at about the time she wrote this, so we shouldn’t be surprised she picked a state in the Midwest.

Discussion

One of the problems with fictionalizing a real person is that readers will wonder where the nonfiction ends and the fiction begins. For example, it is true that Laura Bush was involved in a car crash that killed a classmate when she was seventeen. Some of the details were fictionalized, however, such as having Alice drive alone whereas Laura had a passenger in the car.   She also changed some prominent, verifiable details, like Charlie Blackwell’s father never becomes president like George Bush did. It was distracting at times to have to stop reading and do an internet search to verify or disprove story details, but I did learn quite a bit.

Sittenfeld isn’t the first author to fictionalize people who have occupied the White House. Another book on our challenge list, Primary Colors, is a thinly-veiled look at Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In fact, just in the last few months there has been a thriller by a former president,The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, and a mystery series featuring Former President Barack Obama and Former Vice President Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer.

Why this novel is special, however, is that it is an in depth look at the complexities of relationships, how marriages can survive and thrive between two people from vastly different backgrounds and opposite personalities under the pressure of being prominent public figures. Given that The Bestseller Code predicts novels about human relationships should do well, this fits the model perfectly.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

#BestsellerCode100: Number 56 American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When quiet school librarian Alice Lindgren meets Charlie Blackwell, the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family, she doesn’t think they have much in common. That doesn’t prevent her, however, from falling in love and marrying him. Before she knows it, he’s governor of their state and then president. As first lady, she must decide how to cope with the challenge of loving her husband, but disagreeing with many of his beliefs and actions.

According to a preface in the book,

“American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognizable.

Although not identified by name, the protagonist is apparently modeled after Former First Lady Laura Bush, who was recently in the news.

 

Have you read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 55. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – Discussion begins July 23, 2018
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011

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