A trip I'm jealous of.
I love it when writers get sick.

What is the appeal of Curtis Sittenfeld?

I really don't understand why Curtis Sittenfeld is such a popular author.*

Wife Amazon.com named her latest novel, American Wife, as one of its best of 2008, and it made the New York Times Notable list** (although I was pleased to note that reviewers at both Publishers' Weekly and Bookmarks magazine called it "uneven" and providing a "pat, unsatisfactory" answer to some of its key questions). You know this novel; Sittenfeld herself describes it thus:

"American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady. Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his adminstration are recognizable. All other characters in the novel are products of the author's imagination, as are the incidents concerning them."

The first lady in question is Laura Bush; Sittenfeld got a lot of her information from the biography The Perfect Wife by Ann Gerhart. (Her characters are named Alice Lindgren and Charlie Blackwell, and they're from Wisconsin, not Texas.) I don't have a problem, really, with Sittenfeld's writing; she's a competent, if not graceful, prose stylist, and you can actually get through the first 100 pages of this novel pretty easily and quickly. But here's the problem: Laura Bush is boring. So any book you base on her is going to be boring too. And even if you don't think she's boring, she's a woman who clearly and literally beds down with evil every night.*** Either way, is that a character you want to read about?

Give this one a pass. Sittenfeld does not need to be rewarded for her average prose and her "ripped from the headlines" plot device, which smacks ickily of a Jodi Picoult-like move to capitalize on news headlines and current affairs.

*Full disclosure: I've not been fond of Sittenfeld ever since her catty review of Melissa Bank's novel The Wonder Spot. Which, by the way, is about ten times the novel that American Wife is.

**Why am I still bothering to read New York Times Notable books? And I find it hilarious that Publishers' Weekly provided a much more astute review of this book than did the Times.

***Literally. Do you want to read and think about Laura and George having sex? I didn't.