American Wife Summary & Study Guide

Curtis Sittenfeld
This Study Guide consists of approximately 81 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of American Wife.
This section contains 723 words
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American Wife Summary & Study Guide Description

American Wife Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.

NOTE: All citations in this Study Guide refer to the Kindle version of American Wife: A Novel, published Sept. 2, 2008.

As First Lady Alice Blackwell looks back over her life in Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife: A Novel, she wonders if the choices she has made have jeopardized her husband’s presidency. She married Charlie Blackwell despite their differing political views. During their lives together she had acquiesce to Charlie’s political views, but the threat of a scandal because of her past makes her realize she has the right to voice her own opinion. The novel addresses a variety of themes including the challenges of a life lived in the public eye, the joy and escape that reading can provide, and the differences between the middle and upper classes.

Alice grew up in Riley, Wisconsin. Her family consisted of her mother, father and grandmother. Her grandmother, Emilie instilled in Alice her love of reading. One of Alice’s favorite memories of her grandmother is when Emilie first met Andrew Imhof. Because of his long eyelashes, Emilie thought Andrew was a girl. As Alice and Andrew grew up, they each developed crushes on each other. Alice never knew how her crush would have turned out because Andrew was killed in a car wreck during their senior years in high school. Ironically, it was Alice who failed to stop at a stop sign, causing the fatal wreck. In an attempt to absolve herself to Andrew’s older brother, Pete, Alice allowed Pete to have sex with her. She became pregnant with Pete’s baby. It was Emilie who learned that Alice was pregnant and arranged for her to have an abortion. After Alice graduated from high school she decided to go to a large university to escape the memories of the car wreck.

In the second part of the novel Alice was working as a school librarian when she met and married Charlie Blackwell. Although the two had completely different political ideals and came from different socioeconomic classes, they still married. They believed they could rise above their differences in political views with Alice simply not telling anyone she was a Democrat while her husband ran for office as a Republican. She was relieved when he did not win the office for which he ran.

About ten years into their marriage, Charlie became an alcoholic. He worried obsessively about his legacy and became more and more inconsiderate of Alice. After a class reunion at Princeton Alice was fed up with Charlie when he admitted to using cocaine during the reunion. Alice suggested a trial separation. During the separation Charlie floundered, even getting a DUI before he was introduced to Reverend Randy. It was with this reverend’s help that Charlie found religion. Because she could see the changes in her husband, Alice reconciled with Charlie. She indicates in her story that the following years were the happiest the family had. After that time Charlie was elected as governor of Wisconsin, and then as president of the United States.

The final part of this novel covers one single day in the life of Alice as the first lady. It is on this day that Gladys Wycomb, the doctor who performed Alice’s abortion, threatened to make information about the procedure public if Alice did not speak out against a pro-life candidate for the Supreme Court whom Charlie was backing. The threat turned out to be harmless because Gladys died that same day. Before she died, however, Alice visited Gladys as well as her longtime friend Dena who was dating Pete, the man who got Alice pregnant. These visits changed Alice’s outlook on her role as the first lady and she decided to speak with an army colonel who had been camping around the White House in an attempt to talk to the president about ending the war. Alice told this man she agreed with his opinion that the war should end, an opinion that her husband did not share. Charlie is at first angry with Alice for the spontaneity of her decision but seems more at peace when he realizes his staff is working hard to cover the mistake. It is this decision on Alice’s part that makes her wonder if she has jeopardized her husband’s role as presidency.

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