Last year I wrote about two memoirs of First Ladies – by Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. Today, in honor of our upcoming election, I would like to share two books I’ve recently read about First Ladies who appear in fictional accounts of their lives.
“Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters,” by Jennifer Chiaverini, who seems to be finding a niche writing novels about Mary Todd Lincoln (see Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival), presents Mrs. Lincoln as a somewhat unpleasant and unlikeable First Lady, although she did seem to adore her husband, Abraham. I didn’t find the book to be very interesting, but I did learn a lot about Mary Todd Lincoln and her family, especially her sisters, who didn’t seem to be overly patient or kind to their famous sister.
In contrast, Curtis Sittenfeld writes a brilliant and engaging novel about Hillary Rodman, “Rodman,” which surmises what would happen if Hillary turned down Bill Clinton’s third offer of marriage, and went on to live her own life. While at times the politics of the book made it drag, overall this is a tour de force, written with some wonderful humor. I loved how this book turned out, and found Hillary Rodman quite an endearing character. I was really cheering her on throughout the book.
Regardless of how the election on Tuesday turns out, I can see foresee that a novel about Melania would be quite fascinating, don’t you?
One of the members of my book group suggested we read Laura Bush’s autobiography Spoken from the heart. An island friend saw me reading it, and lent me her copy of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. So, back to back, I read two amazing autobiographies about two amazing women, who happened to be First Ladies of the United States. They both struggled with infertility, and then went on to have two daughters – Laura’s daughters were off in college when the Bushes were in office, but Sasha and Malia Obama spent their youthful years living in the White House. Laura grew up an only child in Texas, to middle class parents. Michelle’s tight knit working class family of 4 lived in Chicago’s South Side. Laura was a teacher and librarian, and Michelle a lawyer and director of non-profits. Both rose to the occasion and pursued their passions – Laura for libraries and literature, and Michelle for military families and children’s fitness and nutrition.
Politics aside, both these women were very popular first ladies. I enjoyed both books, but Michelle’s story was more gripping, both from her personal perspective on life, and also the challenges she faced in being a black woman in today’s society. My favorite part of her book is when she met Barack, and fell in love with him. As someone who has always been a huge fan of Barack Obama, I totally got that part. But Laura’s story gave me a new appreciation for the Bush family and Bush years in the White House. The two stories link together in Michelle’s description of the passing of the baton from the Bushes to the Obamas, how the entire transaction was tinged with kindness, which came across so much in Spoken from the Heart.