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Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, Rodham: A Novel asks the question: what would happen if Hilary Rodham-Clinton never married Bill? It is a political alternate universe that makes you think about what could have been, and what could still come to be in American politics. The novel doesn’t hold back with some of its criticisms and observations about Hilary and Bill – namely Hilary’s white feminism and Bill’s sexism and inappropriate sexual behaviour with female colleagues.
It was a difficult read for me for many reasons. Firstly, I could not help but despair and wonder if a female president of the United States of America can only exist in fiction. As you can imagine, there are two main possible outcomes for this novel – either Hilary wins the election or not. Without giving much away, I can say that the ending is triumphant, albeit a little bittersweet. When Hilary wins the election at the end of the novel, I have the distinct feeling that Sittenfeld shaped the story this way to make a statement about Hilary’s and Bill’s relationship: namely that Hilary was held back by Bill. Great women throughout history have definitely been hindered by their male spouses, so why not Hilary? Although, it does make me wonder if it is a convenient alibi.
Secondly, the sex scenes. Oh the uncomfortable and weird sex scenes. Reading about Hilary and Bill getting it on, even if it was in fiction, was deeply unsettling. It was like hearing about your parents having sex. Although, I do understand that the sex scenes helped explore Bill’s sex addiction and sexual promiscuity. Without these scenes, it would feel like some of the events that happen later in the novel came out of nowhere.
Thirdly, while race was explored throughout the novel, I think it could have been touched upon more. Race has always played a crucial role in American politics, although perhaps by omitting these discussions about race, Sittenfeld did an extremely accurate job of describing and presenting how race is often addressed (or in this case ignored) in American politics.
Lastly, I am Australian and you might be wondering why I would be interested in reading a novel based on American politics and political figures, and there are a few reasons why. The first time I went to the USA was in 2010 to visit a dear and close friend of mine. We had met studying abroad in Austria and have stayed in contact ever since. After spending time with her in Kansas, and then on many other trips travelling around America, I do have a soft spot for the country.
And in general, the influence of American politics has a massive impact on Australian political trends, ideas, and progress. As two Western English speaking countries, our relationship runs deep. Interest in American political news has grown over the years in Australia to the somewhat worrying point where Australians might know more about American politics than their own country’s politics.
Curtis Sittenfeld is no stranger to political novels and also has another female-led political novel, American Wife.
American Wife was published in 2008 and one could even assume that this is a bit of precursor to Rodham. Although American Wife is supposed to be based off Laura Bush. I recently picked up this novel to see how it compares to Rodham. Let me know if you would love to see a review.
Some people have questioned Sittenfeld’s fictional autobiography of Hilary Rodham-Clinton as being too invasive, especially recreating the sex scenes between her and Bill. But I feel like it makes an important statement on the political climate of the U.S. as well as an interesting contribution to fictional writing. Let me know what you think in the comments below.