Rodham is a nauseating, moving, morally suggestive, technically brilliant book that made me think more than any other in recent memory about the aims and limits of fiction ... Rodham feels more invasive than even the most intricate Reddit fantasies about Clinton — she runs a child sex ring; she is a literal witch — because of its plausibility: the attentive, almost obsessive way it catches her voice and her fears ... If this impersonation feels uncanny, even parasitic, it is ... At the same time, it feels less exploitative than some of the ostensible nonfiction written about Clinton. She has been so fictionalized, warped and weaponized by pundits and journalists to fit their chosen narratives that straightforward fiction is almost reassuring in its aims ... There's a seaminess in reading it, too, in satisfying some impulse of prurience or fantasy or grief ... Since 2016, a lot of people have taken a grim pleasure in announcing they always knew Clinton would lose. That America is too sexist, too racist, too rotten at the core for it to have gone any other way. There's relief in thinking like that, in shutting the door, in closing the case. By fanning out alternate narratives, this novel strips readers of the comfortable and cynical knowingness of it had to be like this — you would have had to be stupid to think it wouldn't be like this. Instead, it asks us to imagine a different world. She could have been different; we could have been different; everything could have been different. And from there, what a short — excruciating, hopeful — leap it is to: Everything could be different.
What if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? No spoilers, but Sittenfeld’s answer is likely to alternately elate and enrage readers of all political affiliations. She spins a wild political tale that involves a certain lascivious New York City billionaire, a bizarre leg-shaving scandal and Silicon Valley orgies ... gleefully abandons biographical analysis for thought experimentation ... Certain early passages read like cringe-inducing fan fiction: it would be one thing to encounter veiled approximations of Bill and Hillary getting hot and heavy in law school. It is quite another to read sex scenes that invoke the real names of one of America’s most prominent couples. Sittenfeld even goes so far as to imply that Bill is a sex addict, crumpled under the weight of an unstoppable affliction ... Sittenfeld, an admitted Hillary Clinton fan, reflects on real-life Hillary’s outsize role in Bill’s capturing the presidency through compelling vignettes ... yet even as Sittenfeld grants Hillary the ability to finally do and say whatever she pleases, Rodham doesn’t always satisfy. For one, Sittenfeld never pinpoints a clear motivation for her hero’s desire to enter politics. Real-life Hillary notoriously switched her campaign slogans with abandon, which some took as proof that she could not articulate her reasons for running. Where supporters saw a woman responding to the call to service, critics accused her of being power hungry. Sittenfeld, despite the freedom of her format, lands on neither theory — nor does she offer a convincing alternative ... If her aim was to offer new insight into Hillary’s mind, she doesn’t succeed. But who cares? Even if the character isn’t compelling, her mission to break the glass ceiling is. For a certain reader, the chance to dwell in an alternate reality will be enough. For others, there’s always the orgies.
In these Dark Ages of the Reign of Trump, Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham descends like an avenging angel ... This isn't just fiction as fantasy; it's fiction as therapy for that majority of Americans who voted for Clinton in 2016 and are now sick and unemployed under the current calamitous administration ... Rodham, though, is a high-profile novel - not a parody or a joke book, but a serious work of literary fiction - designed to rally the political spirits of liberal readers ... [The] erotic trysts might seem over the top, but they're all part of the novel's corrective impulse, its determination to rebalance the way men and women exist in our political imagination. After all, if Bill can carry on and Donald Trump can grab women, why can't a female politician have a healthy sex life? ... Yes, this is an implicitly polemical novel. It's devoted to exonerating a politician who has been maligned for decades. But that motive doesn't crimp the book's energy or its suspense because there are other larger themes at work besides Hillary's basic goodness. While telling a compelling story, Rodham provides an insightful analysis of the function of sexism in our political discourse ... And as an extra bonus, Rodham captures Trump better than any other novel has so far. Sittenfeld showcases the real estate developer in all his bombastic narcissism and self-delusion. It's an astounding, slaying parody, while also, mercifully, offering us a future that avoids today's ever-expanding disaster ... The novel's exculpatory impulse exacts a cost, though. As a study of sexism and American politics, Rodham is rich. But as a character study, it knows everything. That leaves little distance between the narrator and her words in which we can sense the mysteries of an actual mind. In that sense, Rodham mimics Hillary's own careful presentation of herself. Perhaps what I'm tempted to call a flaw is merely another element of the novel's verisimilitude.
... intelligent and respectful and well made but bland; it is warm bread instead of toast ... The Clinton-Rodham love affair is a highlight of this book ... Bill Clinton is close to demonic ... One of the impressive and moving things in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s own memoir is the sheer number of good friends she made, and kept, over the years. This novel boils those many friends down to a very few ... has its intimacies, even if it’s not an especially interior novel...Yet she remains essentially distant. If she’s not as creaky as an animatronic president at Walt Disney World, she is somewhere between that and a truly inhabited human being ... This is skillful ventriloquism, yet Sittenfeld never occupies her subject at an animal level. Rodham never has a thought, in this novel, that stabs you or comes from anywhere close to left field. As if it were the Great Salt Lake, you won’t sink in this book — but it won’t quench your thirst, either ... The best thing about reading Rodham, while living through our government’s response to the coronavirus, is that it allows us to do something some of us were doing already, which is to recall her competence and empathy and to miss her enormously.
Sittenfeld is an adept mimic, channeling Hillary’s voice in a first-person narrative that places the reader in her head as she navigates love and the American electorate. It’s a familiar place, but never a fully living, breathing one – a neat parlor trick with no real magic behind it ... While the story of her courtship with Bill is vibrant with heartache, the political minutiae that follows – debate prep, fundraiser schmoozing, stump speeches, strategy meetings – drags the story to a crawl ... Nevertheless, as a thought experiment, Rodham is delectably discussable, a book tailor-made for book clubs. And Rodham’s epigraph, a quote from Hillary Clinton – the real Hillary – from her 2017 memoir...hits different after finishing the book: 'My marriage to Bill Clinton was the most consequential decision of my life. I said no the first two times he asked me. But the third time, I said yes. And I’d do it again.' One can’t help wondering by the end of Rodham – would she really?
... readable and psychologically acute ... Ms. Sittenfeld is at her best in depicting the bizarre freak show into which presidential elections have devolved ... Ms. Sittenfeld’s one misstep in this hugely enjoyable book was in turning Bill Clinton into a comic-book villain, an amoral user and sexual predator who trades in wives for newer models and would have done the same with Hillary had they married. Caught up in the novel, I was almost surprised to remember that in fact the Clintons are still married 50 years after their first meeting—presumably to their own satisfaction, as there is no longer any political necessity for their union. In this case, the reality—the fact that these two forged a partnership that has endured in spite of everything—is more interesting than Ms. Sittenfeld’s simplistic good feminist/bad sexist dichotomy.
Unlike American Wife, Rodham has a strong whiff of longing about it, a resemblance to the category of fan fiction known as RPF, or real-person fiction, in which fans write fictional stories about actual celebrities ... the character Sittenfeld makes of this alternate Hillary remains essentially static: cautious, mildly humorous, committed to public service, but no firebrand. Above all, she is diligent, a grind. The weakness of Rodham is this lack of any significant transformation. Unlike Alice Blackwell, the narrator of American Wife, Hillary Rodham doesn’t come to the gradual realization that she has thrown away her life on a man she can no longer respect and whose values she doesn’t share. Sittenfeld’s Hillary eventually grasps how perilous her passion for Bill Clinton was, but that’s a revelation without much of a price ... Sittenfeld’s Hillary hasn’t been made to stand, in the imaginations of countless resentful and insecure men, for every unwelcome change in women’s roles over the past 50 years. She is an admirable woman, but a bit boring, her interior life free of the kind of conflicts that make for a fascinating heroine, and there’s something melancholy in that.
The provocative premise will draw readers in, but you’ll stay for the well-crafted alternate universe Sittenfeld weaves around our nation’s politics ... Hillary’s narrative voice is self-assured and engaging, but is self-consciously reminiscing on the events of her life ... Beneath the inspiring story of a woman rising to the top of her game in politics lurks the essential deceit and dog eat dog world of the profession...If anything, this is the part of the novel that wasn’t brought to the forefront as much as it should have been. The nefarious nature of politics plays second fiddle to Hillary’s romantic life, and by the end, we’re made to believe she clawed her way to the top with little casualties––and this feels a little too unrealistic for a political novel ... For those who love Hillary Clinton, this novel will validate them, but it will remove the veil of diplomacy behind the politician. For those who hate her, it will provide little consolation, but it will give valuable insight into the world of femininity in politics. And for those who are ambivalent about her, it will leave you with both an admiration for Hillary and the author. Sittenfeld has taken on a truly ambitious subject matter, and Rodham will be a controversial success.
What can we learn from imagining a Hillary whose life sustains only a single interpretation? Reading Rodham, I sometimes missed the rich text of the real Clinton. Her many contradictions may be maddening, but they also reflect the impossible position that she endured as, for years or decades, the most prominent woman in American politics. Sittenfeld manages to squeeze in the real Clinton’s infamous dig at stay-at-home mothers ('I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies'), but it doesn’t have the same complicated zing in the mouth of a judicious senator as it did from a woman who dared to think that America’s most visible helpmeet might have a right to a professional life of her own ... Still, by stripping away our misgivings, Sittenfeld makes room for the catharsis of uncomplicated regret ... The work of Rodham is to smooth away the incongruities between the person and the vessel for other people’s hopes. But part of the dilemma of Hillary Clinton is the failure of imagination that made it so hard for anyone to mount a challenge to her in 2016; her path to the Presidency felt less like ascension and more like inevitability, until, of course, it wasn’t.
Alas, this novel is blighted by Hillary’s perennial problem; as both presidential candidate and fictional protagonist she is admirable, but not loveable. Worse, all the novel’s fun and fizz departs with Bill, a bad boyfriend, but a great character, catalyst and adversary ... However much Sittenfeld wants us to be compelled by Hillary’s intellect, ambition, idealism, her steady, diligent ascent, it’s hard to cry, 'You go, girl!' when this process is as leaden as Hillary’s actual memoir. Fictional Hillary stands for Senate a decade earlier than in real life, since she isn’t slowed down by eight years as first lady. And, of course, she gets stuck into committees, hearings and progressive legislation. Brava and all that. But also zzzz ... Perhaps the problem with this alternative account of US politics is that the present reality is so exhausting, grotesque and bizarre, any fictionalised alternative seems bland or trifling. And who has the spare mental space? Sittenfeld won’t even grant those who mourned when Hillary lost, who are howling in pain through Trump’s term, a wholly golden catharsis. Along the way she has jettisoned the person who, however much he betrayed her, made her mind and body (and this novel) sing. Rodham is fan fiction that won’t even please the fans.
In these Dark Ages of the Reign of Trump, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham descends like an avenging angel ... a high-profile novel — not a parody or a joke book, but a serious work of literary fiction — designed to rally the political spirits of liberal readers ... These early chapters follow the general outlines of Hillary’s life, and sometimes it’s hard to remember we’re reading fiction, not autobiography. But that becomes easier to remember when Hillary describes having sex with Bill ... These erotic trysts might seem over the top, but they’re all part of the novel’s corrective impulse, its determination to rebalance the way men and women exist in our political imagination ... While telling a compelling story, Rodham provides an insightful analysis of the function of sexism in our political discourse ... Sittenfeld is at her wittiest when re-creating the men who dominate modern American politics ... captures Trump better than any other novel has so far...It’s an astounding, slaying parody, while also, mercifully, offering us a future that avoids today’s ever-expanding disaster ... The novel’s exculpatory impulse exacts a cost, though. As a study of sexism and American politics, Rodham is rich. But as a character study, it knows everything. That leaves little distance between the narrator and her words in which we can sense the mysteries of an actual mind. In that sense, Rodham mimics Hillary’s own careful presentation of herself. Perhaps what I’m tempted to call a flaw is merely another element of the novel’s verisimilitude.
The opening chapters feel a little icky. Through the young Hillary’s eyes, we are subjected to Bill as a smooth-talking, lionish lothario. Meanwhile, Hillary’s ambition to be ambitious is not particularly inspiring ... Sittenfeld has a knack for describing intercourse in a way that makes a person never want to have it again ... Though Rodham could be classified as political fantasy, Sittenfeld is writing about America, about the unseemly circus of our democracy, as it really is ... The shining strength of Rodham, and of Sittenfeld’s work in general, lies in the vividly imagined details, the emotional specificity and grubby minutiae that no politician would dare include in a ghostwritten autobiography. These are the details we erase from the stories we tell about our own lives ... Sittenfeld gives us what we need, while driving home the point that our elections do not. And it’s a little bit excruciating, watching how Sittenfeld makes her narrative so easy, so sweet, to believe. Her novel is more balanced, more resonant, more meticulously depicted than any journalistic account could be. Sittenfeld’s Rodham shows us why we read novels in the first place: because fiction reveals truths that we cannot extricate from the limited narratives of our own lives and times. While they are in progress, the stories we tell about ourselves and our society are too often incomplete and self-serving, obscured by our single-minded focus on the present and our inability to see ourselves without embellishment, without shame ... That the 2016 election gave us the opposite of what we needed, and that the consequences of Hillary Clinton’s loss are increasingly grave, is a hard reality to stomach. Fortunately, fiction on the level of Rodham offers some temporary relief. Who needs reality when Curtis Sittenfeld has invited us into the wilds of her imagination?
Hillary’s life story literally begins when she meets Bill Clinton, launching a passionate relationship described in terms sure to skeeve out many readers ... one difficulty is that the book’s point of view—Hillary’s point of view—is a puzzle. She’s writing in the present, when we know for sure that the real Hillary has a sense of humor, but she depicts herself as a self-serious prude, only growing a sense of irony when she reaches 60 ... Sittenfeld captures both the charisma that made Bill Clinton a national figure and the snake-oil salesman odor that still clings to him. The novelist really hits her stride when Hillary runs for president, under different circumstances than she did in real life ... Sittenfeld’s depiction of Trump is pitch-perfect, giving this witty writer an opportunity for her humor to come through. Sittenfeld also is wise about the nuances of doing work that is always visible/criticizable ... In Sittenfeld’s take, Hillary is an expert judge of character but her fussy voice sometimes rings false ... Maybe the real message of the novel is that the complicated Rodham is impossible to pin down? It feels exactly right to identify Bill’s marriage proposal as a turning point, but I’d be curious for Sittenfeld to explore, as she did in American Wife, how that marriage might have worked. Yes, it’s unfair to ask a novelist to write a different book, but surely the most confounding mystery about Hillary is not 'What might have happened if she left?' but 'Why did she stay?'
... fascinating ... a deviously clever what-if ... The book doesn’t have an overt political agenda; it’s less concerned with lionizing or vilifying Hillary than with complicating our notions of her. Sittenfeld’s Hillary is both a player in the Game of Thrones and a romance novel heroine. She’s a brilliant badass who has found her voice and knows how to use it. She’s whoever she wants to be.
Magicians know never to perform the same trick twice, an aphorism that might have saved Curtis Sittenfeld from attempting a second roman à clef about a famous American first lady ... This may work as an exercise in wish fulfillment for her most ardent admirers. But for other readers, the familiar anecdotes that fill the first section of the novel verge on the tedious. Why repeat Hillary’s famous 1969 speech at her Wellesley commencement, or the stories about meeting Bill at Yale Law School? Sittenfeld’s imagined life for Bush worked so well because we never knew the real one. Not so this time around — because Hillary’s life is so well known, parts of Rodham feel slow and stale ... Sittenfeld is a smart, funny writer. She is often best when she places her characters in cringingly embarrassing situations ... Sittenfeld writes convincingly about Hillary’s political ambitions. She draws revealing scenes that expose the terrible double standard that women candidates face, the microscopic attention to their looks and dress ... The crisp, insightful voice Sittenfeld creates for Hillary reminds me of the writing in What Happened, Hillary’s memoir about the 2016 campaign ... Sittenfeld genuinely gets Hillary, plumbing how her youthful idealism fades as she confronts the realities of politics ... I don’t know if Sittenfeld ever met the real Hillary, but in Rodham, she paints a post-Bill life for her that seems perfectly plausible, one that becomes richer with the passage of time. But as good as the final third of the novel is — especially the chapters when Hillary runs for president, complete with a rollicking cameo by Donald Trump — it never recovers from those early pages, where Sittenfeld is still tethered to her character’s real biography
Smart, engaging, and heartbreakingly plausible ... Like Sittenfeld’s 2008 novel, American Wife,Rodham is told as a first-person reminiscence. But “Rodham,” like its namesake narrator, is the sharper book by far, depicting the realities of American politics as well as an astute portrait of the candidate who, we should remember, did win the popular vote ... So credible that it’s almost agonizing, this first section gives us the smart but insecure woman swept off her feet by the charismatic womanizer ... When Hillary breaks up with Bill, following a series of traumatic revelations, the book shifts into speculative territory — envisaging a career track for Hillary that involves both advocacy work and her own first ventures into the political arena. While these are logical and fully fleshed, playing out the inevitable conflicts between her early idealism and her ambitions and drawing on interviews and Clinton’s own writings, this makes for the driest part of the book. Hillary always was a policy wonk, and Sittenfeld evokes her smart, detailed voice for good and ill ... In the longing and loneliness, the anger as well as ambition, this Hillary makes Rodham a compelling portrait of a future that might have been.
Unless you find yourself to be a juror for the 2020 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, begin reading Rodham at its second section ... The Hillary she first introduces has a wooden interior life, and is as socially awkward as she is steely and serious about serving the common good ... Far more demanding of imagination is Sittenfeld’s later attempt to work out Hillary Rodham’s trajectory after she decides that Clinton’s congenital lack of discipline would cause too much harm, in both personal and political terms ... Rodham is far from an answer to the finest novel about American politics proper, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, if more imaginatively agile as a character study than Primary Colors, Joe Klein’s gossipy fictionalisation of Clinton campaign machinations ... at its strongest, Rodham explores the mysterious territory between the inner and outer lives of a person who has long been a source of fascination, adulation and loathing ... When Sittenfeld details Rodham’s capacity to be so furious-minded and pleasant-spoken, and explores her greater reasons and purposes, we finally meet the Hillary who commands attention.
By turns historical fiction, fan fiction, and a novel of manners ... It’s a peculiar fantasy, but one that will resonate with readers who think Hillary got a raw deal, both in her marriage and in the coverage of her 2016 presidential bid ... The novel’s first section is uneven. Young Hillary’s narration can feel too self-aware ... hits its stride when it peels away from Hillary’s youth to envision what her life might have been as a law professor ... Sittenfeld shines at depicting these social interactions, with their inevitable moments of awkwardness, and how nuances of race, class, and gender come into play in relationships as well as in politics ... Hillary runs for president in this alternative universe, too, and once the race for the Democratic nomination started, I couldn’t put the book down. Part of the fun, despite some cringe-worthy moments, is in seeing what problems surface ... Sittenfeld gets at the heart of how media coverage of Hillary, tinged by everything from subtle sexism to outright misogyny, made the road to the presidency not just rocky, but riddled with land mines. Those obstacles would have been there no matter who her husband was, or which political rivals she faced ... There’s no possibility Rodham can give readers the satisfaction of a happy ending because whatever fate Hillary-without-Bill finds can only stand in contrast to our current reality.
Almost everything rests on how far you buy into Sittenfeld’s wayward, rather wistful vision of the past 40 years. The questions that keep you reading are hypotheticals: will this Bill and Hillary eventually wind up together? Will they make it to the White House—and, if so, in what order? But another question nags at the enterprise. Is this anything more than liberal wish-fulfilment—a chance to right not only the cosmic wrong of the 2016 election but everything leading up to it? Rodham opens with an arresting prologue ... But the next 30 or so pages are stiff and flatfooted, cluttered with unnecessary detail about potluck dinners and legal aid work that sound plausibly earnest—but plausibly dull. When Hillary meets Bill, the troubling idea that this is essentially fan-fiction began to enter my mind, Sittenfeld the ultimate Hillary stan ... The story becomes more involving once Hillary and 'handsome lion' Bill start to sleep with each other, though the fan-fic atmosphere still looms large in the lavish descriptions of her 'intolerable ecstasy.' There are scenes of naked sax as he serenades her with marching songs. Sometimes the histrionics just about work ... Sittenfeld gives us a compelling account of the career Hillary might have had, complete with all the sexism and media chicanery she would have confronted on her path to the Oval Office ... There is much to admire in Sittenfeld’s writing. Her ear is attuned to inconvenient truths and double standards, particularly misogyny in America. She specialises in awkward encounters and surprise shifts in power, and these elements feed into Hillary and Bill’s story, both true and alternate. Her characters are usually more slippery than they initially seem but secretly yearn to be unravelled, as we see in one memorably excruciating scene with the pair in their 50s. But it’s hard to see how Rodham frames the events or issues in any new way—or wouldn’t have been more truthful reframed as fiction. It glimmers with relevance but doesn’t ever justify its need to be written.
Hillary’s written voice is flat, and if you’ve slogged through her memoirs, you might hesitate before reading a pastiche. But by tilting history on its side, Sittenfeld makes Hillary seem a fresh character and remarkably sympathetic.
Thanks to Sittenfeld, there are now over 200 pages of speculative fiction that attempts to inject some humanity and nuance into the public understanding of Hillary ... I was bogged down by the unshakeable feeling that I was reading the scribblings of a Hillary super-fan who felt it necessary to add some sex appeal to Clinton’s early life ... Revealing what happens at the end of this book would be a disservice to those willing to sit through 100 pages of bad sex, but the ending is predictable enough that it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where Hillary eventually ends up ... Unfortunately, though, the novel fails to address any real-life factors that might have played into Hillary’s eventual defeat, instead placing an enormous amount of importance on her relationship with Bill and how her steadfast dedication to her marriage was, in Sittenfeld’s eyes, a mistake ... there’s something unseemly about the amount of scrutiny this book invites into the real-life Hillary’s emotions ... a weak rallying cry for Hillary devotees who, four years later, still hold out hope for her ascendancy.
Sittenfeld, who is clearly fascinated with the way strong women do and don’t accept mistreatment, is quick to portray Hillary’s shrewd understanding of Bill’s faults ... Sittenfeld’s gift has always been the ability to zero in on the seemingly trivial moments that end up directing our lives, and it’s this hyper-relatability that makes her novels so absorbing ... Ultimately, this fictionalized Hillary emerges as both calculating and compassionate, brilliant and foolish. But she also reflects back all the Catch-22s of modern womanhood. One should be strong but not chilly, pretty but not vain, smart but not threatening ... In real life, Sittenfeld seems to be saying, Hillary was never set up to win
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Rodham is that in crafting an exemplary version of Hillary Clinton, the book—apparently unwittingly—presents a harsh critique of the person we know today ... there is a lot of self-consciously steamy sex ... Much of the well-known biography of both figures features heavily here, upcycled into a painful kind of exposition ... For all the cringe-inducing detail, the point here is to capture how much Hillary is sacrificing when she separates from Bill ... the moral certainty of the fictional Hillary Rodham makes an awkward contrast with real Hillary Clinton’s position on similar stories, which remains at best unclear. That dissonance is hard to ignore through the rest of the novel ... This character has none of the determined pragmatism, none of the insistence on courage in the face of intractable problems, of the Hillary Clinton who titled her 2014 memoir Hard Choices ... Senator Rodham turns out to be a surreal composite of women in politics ... There’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense ... [Bernie] Sanders’s absence reveals a larger weakness of Rodham, which is its curiously limited view of what is at stake in American politics today. Not only is there no rising democratic social movement on the margins of this novel, it’s as if the 2008 crisis and Great Recession never happened ... We learn more about old flames than ideology or strategy. Some of those intimate moments are handled with an unexpected subtlety, capturing the ways that competence and responsibility can leave powerful women isolated. It’s ultimately a lonely story. To imagine a different future for the country requires more than imagining a single person’s life had gone differently.
The sex scenes are both startling and pedestrian, frank and prim. They’re titillating, like celebrity gossip, and excruciating, like walking in on your parents. They’re entertaining, obviously, and even intentionally comic ... The narration is so stilted, so dorky, it inspires fondness ... [a] subplot, pitting white feminism against racial justice, feels dutiful, an acknowledgment that no political career could be stainless ... characterization feels undermotivated, bloodless—as if anyone would believe that such aspirations are something a person can fall into accidentally, or by some providence, rather than by her own design. This idea of political striving, parked at the intersection of Tracy Flick and Leslie Knope, is possibly endearing and conspicuously small-bore. It refuses to admit anything that might be termed ideology. But perhaps that’s to be expected. More peculiarly, Rodham lacks drama. In the age of the #Girlboss, when appetite and excess are lauded as feminist ends in themselves, is it possible to make women’s ambition seem not just benign but even inert? ... With deft economy, Sittenfeld demonstrates how easy it is to get stuck in even the dumbest traps ... But blown up to the scale of professional politics, her fine-grained observations lose resolution. In Rodham, the characters walk around radiating divine simplicity ... Bland, faultless equanimity constitutes the book’s dominant tone ... The...revisionism just ends up insulting everybody’s intelligence.
...be assured that the sex scenes between Yale law students Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton in Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel are cringe-free — even the one involving manual stimulation that takes place in a moving car. They’re young, they’re in love, it’s adorable ... Fortunately, Sittenfeld is a great stylist and moves on quickly to a voice that’s plain yet pained, subdued yet supple, with unexpressed depths beneath the surface ... Just when you might be wondering what the point of a novel based on real and living people might be, Sittenfeld begins to rewrite history ... It’s an ingenious yet plausible glimpse of an alternative reality, and so involving that it occasionally comes as a shock to realise that there is a different reality, and we are living in it. Readers who are up to speed with the minutiae of American politics could take a deep dive, matching the text diligently against the facts, noting who’s real and what never happened, and admiring Sittenfeld’s skill ... The book is illuminating, grimly so, about the degree of scrutiny given to public figures in the internet age ... The novel dramatises how eerie it feels to be the object of mass projection.
... a very exciting conceit; the only pity is that Hillary’s life feels more dull as a result ... Sittenfeld teases apart the strands of fate and weaves them together in a slightly altered pattern, but she does not change the personality of the actors, nor can she change society itself. Misogyny is a constant in this fictional Hillary’s life, too, though the men who incite it are crucially different. All through her journey, the book holds a certain dream intact – that, without Bill, our heroine might have become her proper self ... The problem is that this 'more true' Hillary, as voiced in the book, is not as interesting as the challenged, proud and private human being we wonder about when we see her on our television screens...She thinks like a law professor, and this feels appropriate, though it dampens everything down, somehow. The law is a discourse where passion gets turned into procedure, where things are regularised and made known. This tendency is there from the very beginning. When she and Bill go on their first date, as students at Yale, their reported conversation sounds like a job interview for future greatness ... there is none of the joyous specificity that made American Wife such a surprising book ... a wonderful, sad dream of what might have been – it contains so much yearning and so many regrets. It is impossible not to sympathise with the project, while still insisting that the best novels are about difficulty, compromise and moral hazard. American Wife was a real novel. Rodham is a political fiction, which is something else.
...a wilder ride than [the] pitch might suggest. I kept losing track, as I read, of what kind of novel it was and of whether or not I approved. The first third, cleaving roughly to reality and Bill and Hillary’s early years at Yale Law School and in Arkansas, includes a lot of feverish, Black Lace-type sex scenes ... The second, a meditation on the experience of a single woman in politics, follows Hillary back home to Chicago after she walks out on Bill. Finally and most surprisingly, in the last third of the book, Rodham becomes a kind of revenge fantasy for women who sublimate their own ambitions for the sake of their husband’s careers, at which point I had to tip my hat to Sittenfeld. I went into the novel thinking the entire premise was crass and came out of it thoroughly entertained ... I don’t hate Hillary, but I have had enough of her, or so I thought. The first surprise of the novel is how gripping it is; the second is how worthy its protagonist is as a subject for fiction ... There is a shadow text behind Rodham, which is the charge sheet of slurs, many of them misogynist, that the real Hillary has put up with for her entire career and which the novel seeks to dismantle ... It’s an irony of the book that, while seeking to rescue Hillary from caricature, it ends up being a kind of love letter to a type: the American bluestocking and female intellectual, who is given none of the licence of her less talented male peers. At the end, which I won’t spoil, I actually said out loud: 'Oh, my God' – and, to my amazement, found myself moved.
... more daring, seductive, and provocative [than its predecesor]. Commandingly narrated by one Hillary Rodham, and laced with true-to-life figures and facts, this exhilaratingly trenchant, funny, and affecting tale nonetheless pivots smartly away from reality ... With this split, Sittenfeld creates a vibrant and consequential alternative life for Hillary, rendered with shrewd and magnetizing specificity as the author dramatizes the sexism petty and threatening that Hillary confronts at every turn, while also offering unusual insights into the difficult-to-balance quests for racial and gender equality. As she envisions her Hillary’s demanding and ascendant career, crucial relationships, and political quests that reel Bill back into her sphere, Sittenfeld orchestrates a gloriously cathartic antidote to the actual struggles women presidential candidates face in a caustically divided America.
... entertaining ... Scenes with cameos from Donald Trump prove livelier than familiar elements like Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies, which she brings to a Yale potluck. Still, Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure ... Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if.
This Hillary tracks with the real person who’s been living in public all these years, and it’s enjoyable to hear her think about her own desires, her strengths and weaknesses, her vulnerabilities and self-justifications; it’s also fun to see how familiar events would still occur under different circumstances...But there isn't much here that will surprise you ... Pleasurable wish fulfillment for Hillary fans.