Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Published by Random House
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Social Issues
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
Seldom has there been a public figure more scrutinized, disparaged, and talked about than Hillary Rodham Clinton. You might think it’s the price to be paid for entering politics, but the level of personal attacks against her often seem largely based on the fact that she is a she. Add to this her marriage to a man not known for his fidelity and her defeat in the 2016 presidential election and one has to wonder: What would life have been like for Hillary if she’d never married Bill? Wonder no more because in Rodham, the intrepid Curtis Sittenfeld has taken on the task of fictionalizing this woman who remains a mystery despite her decades of public service, the thousands of pages she’s written and that have been written about her.
Rodham begins with Hillary’s graduation speech from Wellesley, the first occasion when she publicly made waves by gently chastising the senator who spoke before her. From there she heads to the law school at Yale where her work ethic, her feminism, and her passion for issues involving women, children, and people of color make her stand out. Until she meets Bill Clinton whose larger-than-life personality wrapped in an aw-shucks Southern persona charms everyone. They fall passionately in love, connecting on an intellectual and physical level that stuns Hillary, whose experiences with men have been less than satisfying. After graduation, she defers her own plans to move to Arkansas with him, as a prelude to getting married. But sides of Bill emerge that she can’t reconcile and they go their separate ways. She returns to her home state of Illinois and begins the steady climb towards success, first as a law professor, activist and advocate and then as a politician. The novel culminates in 2016.
This is Hillary’s story, but despite not marrying him, Sittenfeld isn’t foolish enough to relegate Bill to a disappearing act. She sticks to a portion of history, but with different outcomes. She also doesn’t hesitate to get into the muck of what politics has become and no one, including Hilary, stays clean. This is part of what makes Rodham such jaw clenching reading—you may get what you want, but at what cost? For me, this is where the novel became one of those books that frustrates in the best way possible. It doesn’t go the way I expected nor wanted, but no other outcome seems plausible. Each reader will interpret it differently.
There’s only so far I can go in reviewing Rodham because while it is not a thriller, it has more ups and downs and more twists and turns than I’ve read in many novels of that genre. What I can say is that Sittenfeld does a remarkable job writing Hillary. She chooses to write in the first person and in this way, gives the novel the feel of a memoir—especially during the political parts. She does the heavy lifting to make even Hillary’s inner monologues sound like the woman herself. This ability to so closely imitate Hillary cuts both ways. There are the deeply personal aspects, including sex with Bill, that feel intrusive and the pragmatic political Hillary that feel dry and academic in tone. But it’s as Hillary ages that the impact of her life choices come off the page and resonate.
All of which is to say that at the very least Rodham is going to ignite the same amount of conversation and controversy as the woman herself. Sittenfeld is to be commended for writing a wildly inventive and carefully calculated novel that hews seamlessly to history, while corkscrewing off the page like rogue fireworks. It’s explosive, unexpected, and exciting reading.
Backlist Beauty: Want more women in politics fiction? Try another one I enjoyed, Charlotte Wash Likes to Win.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
Kate @ booksaremyfavouriteandbest says
Just got my hands on this book (you must have burned through it!) – can’t wait to get started. I really admire Sittenfeld for taking on brave topics – this, American Wife, and Eligible (not many authors attempt a retelling of P&P and are upfront about it!).
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy from Random House. Interesting you might think that, because I actually struggled with the book in the beginning (why it’s 4.5 not 5). It was a bit slow for me.
Carla | Happiest When Reading says
Your review…makes me want to pick it up right now. It should be arriving in the mail soon!!
Oh my gosh, somehow this comment went into my spam folder so I only came across it today! Hopefully, it’s arrived because I can honestly say with as horrible as things are in this country right now, it’s still a book that will hold your attention. Of course, you won’t be able to keep from thinking about where we would be if she had won the electoral college in 2016. Which seriously makes me want to cry today.
Susie | Novel Visits says
This is a great review, Catherine! We definitely saw eye-to-eye on this one. For me, it was thoroughly engaging from start to finish, even when parts made me want to scream!
It would have been 5 stars for me except for the beginning- when I had to ask both you and Sarah if I should keep going. Could easily have been me and am happy I pushed through.
Great review! I’m game for it this summer. What do you think Hillary would think of the novel? hmm. I hear Sittenfeld nails the fiction version of Trump … true? You make it sound like a pretty engaging / entertaining read ….
She does an outstanding job on all those fronts. I don’t think Hillary would like it, simply because it is so personal. Plus, the sex scenes with Bill? I didn’t need that in my head!