Our American Friend by Anna Pitoniak
Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: February 15, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Suspense
What kind of trouble has to have occurred to leave an American journalist stranded in Croatia with her husband because the U.S. is unsafe for her? In Our American Friend, Anna Pitoniak’s new novel, it’s her subject who’s the problem. Sofie Morse was chosen by Lara Caine, the president’s wife to write her biography. How dangerous could a First Lady’s life be? But the more Lara talks the deeper the pit that threatens to bury them both in this slow burn novel of suspense.
There’s no point in being coy about who the Caines are based on in Our American Friend. Lara is the younger, Russian third wife of a blowhard businessman who, as president, has thrown the country into a state of deep divide and unrest as he continues to pursue his own interests while in office. Lara is notoriously reclusive and disinterested in being a First Lady. Yet, she approached Morse and offered her every writer’s dream: full access to not only a trove of journals and other written sources, but interviews with Caine herself, her mother, and her sister. Even better? She doesn’t care about pre-publication approval, almost unheard of in the world of biographies.
Pitoniak sets the scene and pace perfectly in Our American Friend. By 30% the players have been assembled, the groundwork laid and, most importantly, the hooks sunk into the reader. Lara’s past, all the way back to her childhood unfolds, as does Sofie’s more recent history as a White House correspondent. Not to mention the hints about why she’s living in Croatia. What starts as carefully limited and structured meetings turn into lunches and longer conversations as the two women start to become friends.
As Sofie’s time with the First Lady increases and we go further back into Lara’s life the novel starts to itch. Pitoniak hews so closely to the previous president’s third wife and to events during his presidency that it reignites agitation in anyone who struggled with those four years. Real policies and events are used and those that are fiction still have an unnerving ring of truth. Still, I’m invested, even though it makes my stomach hurt to read about a toxic presidency irrevocably damaging America.
Much in the same way I’ve struggled with COVID themed novels, Our American Friend was an uneasy reading experience. Especially as the president in the novel wins a second term. In some ways, it’s too much too soon, but even with my mixed feelings, I give the novel 4 stars. It’s a cleverly constructed, well written, intriguing story and if politics are something you can ignore, it’s easy reading.
If you like political thrillers, especially those set in current times, Louise Penny’s State of Terror is great (and scary).
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*I received a free copy of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.*