Review: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham is a novel that explores the question: What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton? In 1971, Hillary is a young woman full of promise. She is attending Yale Law School, involved in student activism and women’s rights. While there she meets Bill Clinton, a handsome and charming fellow law student. Bill is already planning his future political career. In each other, they find an emotional, physical and intellectual partner that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill to Arkansas, where he proposed several times; though Hillary said no several times, she eventually accepted and became the Hillary Clinton we know today. In this novel Hillary ultimately chooses a different path. Hillary endures a devastating breakup with Bill after feeling doubt about their prospective marriage. Over the next several decades she sets her own path in the political world, one that has her crossing paths with Bill Clinton more often than she would like.

REVIEW:

I was fascinated from the synopsis alone. Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye my entire life. I have always been aware of her and her husband. I remember knowing that the President had done a bad thing, but being too young to fully understand the full scope of the scandal. As I got older I never truly understood why Hillary stayed with her husband after the White House scandal, especially after learning that this wasn’t his first “indiscretion”. This novel weaves a fictional tale through actual historic events.

It is interesting to see what things still happen in this alternate timeline (Barack Obama is still elected in 2008), and what changes (Bill Clinton drops out of the ’92 race, thus George Bush Sr. gets re-elected for a second term). The book explores the themes of loneliness, the quest for political power and the compromises that must be made on that quest, the frustrations associated with female ambition. The decisions made by this novel at times feel crazy, but still very interesting to read. One decision made was how Donald Trump was included in the 2016 presidential campaign. It is different from what actually happened in 2016, but with how incredibly awful he is as a person and President this felt especially uncomfortable to me. This novel, while obviously a work of fiction, helped me understand Hillary and Bill’s relationship a bit more. It made me more willing to understand why she stayed with him, and how important it is to find someone who challenges you in the best way. Overall, this novel was fascinating and even a couple days later I’m still thinking about it.

RATING: 7/10

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