In American Wife, novelist Curtis Sittenfeld fleshes out the interior life of our enigmatic first lady

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Laura Bush is a lot more popular than her husband, so when many W.-haters see the first lady in photos or on TV, they must wonder, How does she live with him? The speculation about the first marriage has been fueled by Laura Bush's few titillating suggestions that she might be a closet liberal whose political views, particularly on abortion and homosexuality, directly contradict her husband's. (She was a librarian, after all.) When I look at Laura Bush, I have more Us Weekly sorts of questions, like, Has she had a face-lift?

But unlike her predecessor, Bush has remained something of a sphinx these past eight years, offering few clues about her views of the world and of her husband. The public sees in her what it wants to see, projecting on to her beliefs that she has chosen to neither confirm nor deny. So author Curtis Sittenfeld has gone ahead and tried to fill in the blanks through fiction. American Wife, timed for release with the opening of the Republican convention, is Sittenfeld's attempt to imagine the interior life of Laura Bush.

Much of the story will be familiar to readers, as it tracks closely to Bush's biography, down to the cashmere coat she wore to her husband's first swearing in. Sittenfeld clearly believes the reclusive Laura Bush is, underneath her dowdy exterior, a fascinating character study, but even in Sittenfeld's skilled hands, Bush proves no more gripping in fiction than she does in real life....

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