Cover image for Rodham : a novel
Title:
Rodham : a novel
ISBN:
9780399590917
Edition:
1st ed.
Physical Description:
420 pages ; 25 cm.
Summary:
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise. Life magazine covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she's attending Yale Law School, and she's on the forefront of student activism and the women's rights movement. Then she meets a fellow law student named Bill Clinton. A charismatic Southerner, Bill is already laying the groundwork for his political career. In each other, Hillary and Bill find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times. Although she turned him down more than once, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton. But in Curtis Sittenfeld's powerfully imagined tour de force of fiction, Hillary follows a different path. Listening to her doubts about the prospective marriage, she endures a devastating break-up and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail--one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that crosses paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the trade-offs all of us must make to build a life. Brilliantly weaving actual historical events into a riveting fictional tale, Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute story for our times. --
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Summary

Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Eligible . . . He proposed. She said no. And it changed her life forever.

"Deviously clever . . . 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."-- O: The Oprah Magazine

In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she's attending Yale Law School, and she's on the forefront of student activism and the women's rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld's powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail--one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.


Author Notes

Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld was born August 23, 1975 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an American writer. Her titles include: Prep, the tale of a Massachusetts prep school; The Man of My Dreams, a coming-of-age novel and an examination of romantic love; and American Wife, a fictional story loosely based on the life of First Lady Laura Bush.

Sittenfeld attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, before transferring to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. At Stanford, she studied Creative Writing. At the time, she was also chosen as one of Glamour magazine's College Women of the Year. She earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 2018 she made the bestseller list with her title, You Think It, I'll Say It.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Guardian Review

Love is the great accident. We can fall for the wrong person, or we can have the great good fortune to attach ourselves to the right person, and the strange thing is, we may never know which is which. In Curtis Sittenfeld's 2008 novel American Wife, a woman's tough love pulls her husband back from alcoholism and then he becomes president of the United States. That woman is a fictional version of Laura Bush and she sometimes wonders at the amazing, almost casual particularity of her role in history. People seem to blame her: "His election is my fault, his presidency is my fault, his war is my fault. Why couldn't I just have let him be an alcoholic? Plenty of wives put up with it every day!" The intersection of the ordinary and the historic made American Wife feel almost Shakespearean; the relationship was destined and domestic and surprisingly sexy. Sittenfeld's new book, Rodham, undoes destiny, and it tilts toward the political rather than the intimate. This is, in part, because its heroine, Hillary Clinton, is a greater political force than Laura Bush ever was. But also, in Rodham, there is no central marriage. That is the whole point. In the old days, people used to think Hillary was hitching a ride on Bill's career - now it is possible to think that he held a good woman back. Rodham is an account of what might have happened if she had taken one hard look at Bill's promiscuous nature and run the hell out of the relationship. It is a very exciting conceit; the only pity is that Hillary's life feels more dull as a result. The first third of the novel is one we know from the history books. The couple meet at Yale, move to San Francisco and then to Fayetteville, where Bill plans to run for office, in Arkansas. In this version, however, Hillary quickly discovers the nature of the man who is the love of her life, and she decides to leave him. "It was unfathomable that we were hugging a final time, that I was climbing into the car, starting the engine," she says: and then she does just that. We find the new fictional Hillary in 1991, working as a law professor in Chicago, single and happy enough. Bill has become governor of Arkansas, as he planned to do. At his side is a sweet, soft-spoken, younger wife who wears Little House on the Prairie dresses and cries when challenged on television about his infidelity. This is a version of the famous 60 Minutes interview, in which the real Hillary saved Bill's presidential campaign. When alternate Hillary watches it from her life in Chicago, she thinks her ex-boyfriend's wife is weak. "Bill needed an equal who acted like, even if he'd had affairs, so what?" The game of the speculative part of the book is to consider what might have happened differently and what would have happened anyway, and this is a lot of fun. What is the result of happenstance and what of choice? Some incidents look familiar: the suicide of a colleague, the rise of Obama, the fact of Trump. 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. In the novel, we find fictional Hillary single at 40 and relieved that the question of children is now moot. She has latent political ambitions but they remain hidden, even from herself. 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. The real Hillary is, of course, a controlled kind of person. She is shown, in the early sections, happily nesting in her student bedsit, alone and in her pyjamas, surrounded by her calendar, to-do list and legal briefs. When the young Bill disturbs this moral, conscientious life, they have a great amount of sex, as students in love are prone to do, but there is none of the joyous specificity that made American Wife such a surprising book. Clinton attracted women with great ease and frequency, but though the word "charisma" is much used, it is hard to tell what exactly his secret was. And although, in later life, his response to getting found out is one of self-pity and resentment, the discovery of his infidelity as a young man produces an odd, confessional penitence. He wakes Hillary in the middle of the night to say she should leave him. "The thing that is wrong with me is incurable," he says. This early, more religious self feels a little unlikely - a young man who says he needs sex all the time is more usually boasting than crying for help. And this is the problem with real life, because in real life people don't know what they are doing until it is too late. In real life, it is possible to look at that 60 Minutes interview and see a man who is not just interested in sex but in punishing his smart-as-paint wife. Yes, there were telephone calls with Gennifer Flowers. "I think once that I called her when we were together," he says and his wife manages to hold her expression, before glancing quickly down. Bill would later ring senators from the Oval Office while an intern was servicing him under the desk. Perhaps he was addicted, not to orgasm, but to the pleasures of deceit - and these pleasures sometimes require being found out. So it is possible to see why Clinton needed a woman like Hillary to cheat on, over and again, and less easy to see what she got out of being punished in this way, apart perhaps from the moral high ground and, with it, a sense of her own superiority. The battle for power was in their marriage long before it was in the world. The real Hillary stayed because that is exactly what she would have done. This fictional Hillary leaves when his philandering spills over into something worse. Everyone can have a theory about what happened within the marriage, including people who think it was just a political pact, but one way or the other it was the place where Hillary Rodham Clinton was trapped. Or perhaps too much can be made of a marriage - we might also remember that, in 2016, she won the popular vote. The story of the real Hillary Rodham Clinton may or may not be a great modern tragedy. You can ascribe to her one or other flaw (pride is always a good contender); you can ask did she, or the US, deserve her outrageous and misogynistic fate. But Sittenfeld knows that a novel about defeat is not what liberal America needs right now, because liberal America has already suffered too much sorrow and disbelief. The US desperately needs a fantasy. Rodham is 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.


Kirkus Review

How would Hillary Rodham's life--and our world--be different if she had never married Bill Clinton? In American Wife (2008), Sittenfeld imagined her way into Laura Bush's head in the guise of a character named Alice Blackwell. In her new novel, she doesn't bother to change the protagonists' names, and we're introduced to Hillary Rodham as she's about to give her famous Wellesley College graduation speech and has an intimation of her "own singular future." She goes to Yale, meets a charismatic former Rhodes Scholar, falls in love, catches him cheating on her, and follows him to Arkansas anyway. They try to come up with ways to tame Bill's libido: "Maybe--what if--if I wanted it and you didn't," he asks her, "would you think it was disgusting if I laid next to you and touched myself?" That works for her. "Mapping out the future, coming up with strategies and plans--these were things we were good at," she thinks. But then she decides not to marry him, and the history of the United States goes off in a different direction. The captivating thing about American Wife was imagining an inner life for Laura Bush, a First Lady who was something of a cipher, and in particular imagining that her politics were different from her husband's. Sittenfeld sets herself an opposite task in this book, creating an interior world for a woman everyone thinks they know. 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. (Watch what happens when Bill Clinton appears on 60 Minutes with a less-astute wife at his side.) But there isn't much here that will surprise you. Pleasurable wish fulfillment for Hillary fans. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Though camouflaged, Sittenfeld's American Wife (2008) is a bold and empathic reimagining of the life of First Lady Laura Bush. Sittenfeld's avidly anticipated new novel, Rodham, mines a similar vein, though it is more daring, seductive, and provocative. 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. Yes, Hillary and Bill Clinton, two brainy and ambitious Yale law students, fall passionately in love, and, yes, she accompanies him to Arkansas, where everyone finds her intellect, professional commitments, and no-frills style alarming and offensive. Hillary revels in Bill's charisma and drive, the sex is ecstatic, and she finally agrees to marry him, until his chronic infidelity convinces this disciplined social-justice warrior to walk away. 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.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 1970 The first time I saw him, I thought he looked like a lion. He was six foot two, though I knew then only that he was tall. And in fact, his height seemed even greater because he was big-­tall, not skinny-­tall. He had broad shoulders and a large head and his hair was several inches longer than it would be later, which drew attention to its coppery color; his beard was the same shade. I suppose I thought he looked like a handsome lion, but even from a distance, he seemed full of himself in a way that canceled out his handsomeness. He seemed like a person who took up more than his share of oxygen. This sighting took place in Yale Law School's student lounge, in the fall of 1970--my second year of law school and his first. I was with my friend Nick, and Bill was speaking in his loud, husky, Southern-­accented voice to a group of five or six other students. With great enthusiasm, he declared, "And not only that, we grow the biggest watermelons in the world!" Nick and I looked at each other and began laughing. "Who is that?" I whispered. "Bill Clinton," Nick whispered back. "He's from Arkansas, and that's all he ever talks about." The next thing Nick told me was actually, at Yale Law School, less notable than Bill's being from Arkansas. "He was a Rhodes scholar." After I'd been accepted at both Harvard and Yale, I'd decided where to go using a rule I'd established for myself at such an early age--probably in third or fourth grade--that I had trouble remembering a time when I hadn't abided by it. Though I'd never discussed it with anyone, I thought of it as the Rule of Two: If I was unsure of a course of action but could think of two reasons for it, I'd do it. If I could think of two reasons against it, I wouldn't. Situations arose, of course, where there were two or more reasons both for and against something, but they didn't arise that frequently. Should I, as a high school freshman, take Latin? Because I'd heard the teacher was outstanding and because it would help me with the SATs--yes. Should I attend my church youth group's retreat at Gebhard Woods State Park if it meant missing my friend Betty's sweet sixteen party? Because the date of the retreat had been announced first and because a church event was inherently more moral than a party--yes. Should I style my hair in a beehive? (Yes.) Should I major in history? (No.) Should I major in political science? (Yes.) Should I start taking the pill? (Yes.) After Dr. King's assassination, should I wear a black armband? (Yes.) That my "reasons" were often simply articulations of my own preferences wasn't lost on me. But in the privacy of my own head, who cared? The reasons I'd ultimately chosen Yale were: (1) its commitment to public service, and (2) when I'd attended a party at Harvard Law after my acceptance there, a professor had declared that Harvard didn't need more women. As with Yale, the number of female law students at Harvard was then at about 10 percent, and I was slightly tempted to enroll just to spite this professor. But only slightly. One evening in March 1971, shortly after spring break, I was studying in the law library, which was in a striking Gothic building. The library occupied a long room filled with carrels. Above the bookshelves were large, arched stained-glass windows, and bronze chandeliers hung from the wood ceiling. I'd been sitting at a carrel for ninety minutes, and every time I looked up, I made eye contact with Bill Clinton--the lion. He was about twenty feet away, perched on a desk and talking to a man I didn't know. I wondered if Bill was confusing me with someone else. Then again, since only twenty-­seven students my year were women, it shouldn't have been that difficult to keep us straight. I stood, approached him, and said, "I noticed you looking at me. Is there something you need?" I extended my hand. "I'm Hillary Rodham." He smiled slowly and broadly, and in his warm, husky, Southern voice, he said, "I know who you are." (Oh, Bill Clinton's smile! More than forty-­five years have passed since that night in the library, and at times it's crossed my mind that his smile may have ruined my life.) He added, "You're the one who told off Professor Geaney on Ladies' Day." This--Ladies' Day--was a ritual observed by some professors who called on female students to speak just once a semester, on a designated day. But Professor Geaney, who taught Corporate Taxation, which was an upper level class Bill wasn't in, took the tradition further than most: Every Valentine's Day, the professor started class by announcing that it was Ladies' Day and asking all the virgins to assemble in the front of the room. When he'd done it a few weeks before, I along with the other two women in the section stood but remained at our seats, as we'd planned to do in advance, and I spoke on our behalf. I said, "This is an offensive custom that has no place in an academic setting. The female students present should be treated as full members of the law school community, with the same rights to participation in this class as the male students." When I'd finished, I'd felt some of the defiant satisfaction I had at my Wellesley graduation, and the feeling hadn't been diminished when Professor Geaney said, "Fine then, Miss Rodham. You ladies may stay where you are, but since you seem particularly keen to share your viewpoints today, I'll let you begin our discussion by summarizing Gregory v. Helvering." "I'd be happy to," I said. In the law library, to Bill Clinton, I said, "Yes, that was me." Bill rose then from the desk, all six feet two of him, with his coppery hair and beard, and took my still-­extended hand (I was five-five). He said, "It's a pleasure to officially meet you. I'm Bill." "Are you interested in working at the legal aid clinic?" I asked. For the last eighteen months, I'd volunteered at the New Haven Legal Services office. He seemed amused, though I didn't see why. Our hands were no longer moving but still clasped--his hand was enormous--as he said, "I might be. Would you like to get a cup of coffee sometime and we could discuss it?" As I extracted my hand, I said, "If you're considering the clinic for this summer, you should apply as soon as possible. The slots will definitely fill up." "No, I'll be organizing for ­­McGovern down in Florida. But what about coffee?" Was he asking me out? In a matter of seconds, I considered then dismissed the possibility. There were, as it happened, two reasons why. The first was that Bill Clinton had a palpably impatient and acquisitive energy, and while, at Yale Law School, this energy wasn't unique, his was more extreme than most. He did, obviously, want something from me, but it seemed unfathomable that the something was romantic. And the reason it seemed unfathomable wasn't that men weren't interested in me; they sometimes were, but the men who were interested in me were never outrageously charismatic and handsome. Therefore I wasn't playing hard to get, I wasn't being coy, as I said, "I'm busy until the weekend, but I have time to meet you on Saturday afternoon." Excerpted from Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.