Picks and Pans Review: Channeling Laura Bush

updated 09/15/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

American Wife
by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Prep author Sittenfeld's audacious third novel traces the path of Alice Lindgren from Wisconsin librarian with a tragic past to First Lady. Substitute Texas and the story closely resembles George and Laura Bush's, right down to their improbable romance. Bookish Alice, a Democrat, weds ne'er-do-well Charlie Blackwell, least promising son of a Republican political dynasty, soon after they meet. She's relieved when Charlie loses his first bid for office, but after he buys the Milwaukee Brewers, quits drinking and finds God, he's elected governor, then President. The plot turns adroitly on two haunting mistakes from Alice's youth, then bogs down once it hits the present. Sittenfeld's imagination knows no bounds, but her musings about the First Couple's sex life (ew!) are actually more palatable than her attempts to find a conscience behind Alice's implacable fa├žade. Nonetheless, this'll set tongues wagging.

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