Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

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Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby joe_hill on Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:58 am

Here's a thread to talk about American Wife and American Widow, the first books in the Words + Pictures book club. I spouted off about it here: http://joehillfiction.com/?p=509

Here's the TV guide version of my comments on American Wife...

Let’s get one thing out of the way: along with Andre Dubus the III’s In The Garden of Last Days, American Wife was my favorite novel of the year, and I expect Wife and Garden to battle it out for all the major literary prizes in the upcoming months. Curtis Sittenfeld and Andre Dubus should have several opportunities to exchange insincere smiles while staring daggers at each other, over plates of rubbery chicken, in swank hotel ballrooms.

Wife is, I think, the best kind of novel, a waxy hive of stories, with a whole swarm of vividly imagined characters buzzing in and out of its honeyed combs. In its ambition and energy, it very much brings to mind the books of Thomas Hardy or Jane Austin or Dickens or Irving.


And about Widow I blabbed:
It’s pretty raw going. I’m not sure Widow is always a satisfying read in a traditional sense. It leaps around in time, and there are sequences I was never able to puzzle out, even after rereading them several times - I don’t know that artist Sungyoon Choi was always sure what was being expressed. But even these moments that verge on incoherence thrum with intense feeling, and I wonder if they aren’t the most direct representation of grief in the book: a period of time in which the world no longer makes sense, when everything hurts and nothing adds up, and going on would be unimaginable, except there’s nothing else to do.


All that aside, I don't want to really review the books - I'd rather talk about 'em. You chip in your two cents, and I'll see you and raise.
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby This_Girl on Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:37 pm

I think you are going to have to get more people in on this, Mr. Hill. You don't want to only be chatting with me on this, LOL. With all my misplaced commas and going off topic constantly....all my "this one time, at band camp" stories....
It is my hope that people are waiting for Monday to get in on this. :)
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby joe_hill on Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:29 pm

Nah, I'm happy to talk with however many people read the books and are interested in 'em. WIFE was a long one and a priceyish hardcover, so I know a good segment of the website regulars didn't get to it. Also, though, one beauty of having a book club on a message board is that the conversation is never really over. People are welcome to jump in whenever.
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Betsy_Boo on Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:32 pm

Damn! I put my comments on the blog. Sorry. I'm going to go back and look at both books and see what other thoughts I can come up with.
"We'll always have Paris."

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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Betsy_Boo on Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:55 am

Ok...so I was thinking last night about why Alice was attracted to Charlie. I think we can probably agree that had her first love lived, her life would've been very different. She often wonders about it herself. Her first love was VERY different in personality than Charlie so perhaps that is why she was attracted to him, eh? Plus, I get the feeling that she was in a place where she doubted herself and Charlie swept her off her feet...another instance of her letting circumstances dictate her decisions. I completely relate to that. Generalization---There are two kinds of people in the world: the ones who make their own destiny and the ones who allow destiny to make them. I am of the latter as is Alice. Reading this book was like reading a personal memoir rather than a novel. I know I should have liked it more than I did...the writing was superb, but I found the plot lacking in a way that I can't really articulate. When I compare it to other books I enjoyed, I realize that I found it difficult to become emotionally invested in the lives of the characters. I will say that I did develop some sympathy for the Bushes, but not enough to absolve them. That will take time.

As for AMERICAN WIDOW, it reinforced in me the idea that we should be kinder to our loved ones. Time is much shorter than we realize.
"We'll always have Paris."

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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby LauraK on Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:16 pm

Bueller?

Bueller??

sound of crickets chirping



Anyone else read these? (Not me, just curious to read others' takes to see if they're something ought to put on the tbr list...)

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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Melissa on Thu Jan 29, 2009 12:25 pm

I'm finally reading this now, as I've said someplace else in here. I am absolutely loving it. I know someplace it was mentioned that it was hard to handle the sex stuff, thinking of our former president, but I really am not picturing these characters that way at all. They are completely different people for me. It's eerie to me how much a lot of the writing echoes sentiments I have, or feelings I feel, and how Alice so boldly FEELS these things. This morning I was at my son's awards assembly, waiting for the kids to file in and I read this passage

"But what amazed me was that I would marry a man I loved; my choices had not turned out to be settling or remaining single. The generic relief of being coupled off was something I could have found by marrying Walt in 1968, or another man since. The remarkable part was that I'd be getting much more. Charlie was sweet and funny and energetic, he was incredibly attractive – his wrists with the light brown hair on the back, his preppy shirts, his grin, and his charisma – and I had waited until the age of thirty-one, I'd sometimes felt like the last one standing, and then I had found somebody who was not perfect, but was perfect enough, perfect for me. I was not to be punished, after all. I was to be rewarded, though it was hard to say for what.
It had been six weeks since we'd met."

And then I re-read it, and then I giggled. This is EXACTLY, word for word (well, names and dates changed, of course) how I'm feeling right now. EXACTLY. This story is so REAL to me, I think that's why I'm loving it!

Thank you Joe, for sharing this book with us. I would never had read it otherwise.
Let's do it again! What book is next?
The devil's voice is sweet to hear.
Stephen King
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby This_Girl on Tue Feb 03, 2009 9:15 am

That's sweet, Melissa. I can relate to it, too. By the time I was dating my husband people thought we kind of just settled for one another having been close friends for quite some time. He and I know that we did not settle....we just finally saw what had been right in front of us the whole time and jumped in. Though we were 20-ish....It was as though people were paired off and it left us standing alone.

As for the sex in AW - I totally pictured Alice as Laura...so when people were going down on her, it was bizarre for me, tee hee. As for Charlie, he wasn't so much Pres. Bush to me. Maybe it's b/c this book gave the character such a likable side I couldn't really picture it.
I must say that watching the President's fairwell speech w/ the press and then a few days later to the Nation....I saw Charlie. I was happy "Charlie" was going home to make Alice coffee in the morning. :)
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Dana_Jean on Tue Feb 03, 2009 10:09 pm

I finally finished up American Wife and I'm really glad I hung in there. The first and last parts were the strongest in my opinion; the middle groundwork, although well written mechanically, could have been cut down which would have improved the flow. For me, anyway.

Joe asked, was she cowardly or noble in being a doormat? Okay, he didn't call her a doormat, but I will. There are times in all our lives when it serves us better to use discretion when it comes to speaking our true minds and hearts. And then there are times when by not speaking out, we lose ourselves. Alice, I believe, was a coward. But, I don't condemn her because slowly losing your identity and being controlled, I'm sure, makes one question their right to an opinion. I do believe Alice loves and adores the simpleton that is Charlie--in a very protective almost maternal way. And, I think Charlie loves Alice in the way he loves the Brewers and the tennis trophy--she is something to be won and owned. But, to him, this is what love is. She is an accessory for Charlie to try on and trot out as needed. No one expects much of her; look nice, parrot the party line or at the very least, just shut up and smile. Charlie's reason to be is tied up in his legacy, and as long as she makes him look good, that's what matters to him. He guilts her, ridicules her, and more often than not, she tows the line. Anything she tries to stand up for, she does in a cowardly way, making donations secretly, following through on things before he can tell her no. But when he finds out, and it serves his purpose, he's quite pleased. And if it doesn't, he sulks like a child. Someone pointed out that Alice is like a Stepford Wife, and I thought this was a spot on observation. She is an automaton, a Cherry 2000 if you will, that Charlie gives patronizing smiles and pats too when she doesn't follow the script. Then he sends his goons out to damage control because she's such a detriment when she escapes from the cage and is her own person.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief that they could maintain a marriage and ascend to the highest office in the land on their sexual compatibility alone, seeing as how they were polar opposites in regards to religion, politics and intellectual interests. I've seen plenty of marriages exist where people don't agree on the above topics all the time, but, all three 100% of the time? No way. Ninety-nine percent of all internet 'gang' wars revolve around religion and politics, as we've seen on this very board, and then simple debates oftentimes quickly disintegrate into stabs at intelligence.

I found the insights about fame and celebrity in the last chapter interesting and sad, but I was pleased that her old friend Dena and Pete did not sell her out. The author chose to show that, although they had been approached to sell their stories, in the end, they were honorable people who believed in loyalty and doing the right thing.

Finally, on the last page of the book, Alice thinks to herself as her motorcade is driving down the street, "All I did is marry him. You are the ones who gave him power."

Unfortunately, Alice doesn't realize that by marrying him, she gave up her power to him as well.


American Widow was my first graphic novel. The illustrations didn't move me, and in fact were boring to me, except for one: The one of Eddie Torres sitting with his packed suitcase, alone and constantly waiting. That image was very powerful. That repeated image is the one that spoke to me.

The story itself was written in a way--fractured, disjointed (which is how information was coming in that horrible day and for days and days after)--that I could feel Alissa's alienation and disconnect from life around her. Struggling to just wake up and go on with the business of living. Pregnant, needing help; yet somewhat embarrassed to take it. Fighting to prove her husband existed and was employed by the company, moving her way through the red tape and corruption, the laziness and indifference. Every once in a while, finding that shining person who would be her lifeline and would get her through for another day and another and another.

I think the very nature of a graphic novel lent itself well to the telling of this tragic moment in history. Any hang-ups with that are the reader's, not the author's as I do think you have to approach graphic novels with a whole new, open mind-set about the experience. I will read this one again in the future; I think I will appreciate it more a second time through.
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Betsy_Boo on Wed Feb 04, 2009 9:17 am

I really like your insights DJ...I'm going to read "American Widow" again too because after reading what you wrote I realized that I also experienced a disjointed sensation while reading it and on some level, dismissed the story because I found it a bit confusing. That's not to say I thought it was bad...I just think it was my own lack of analysis. It didn't even occur to me that the strangeness and confusion might have been on purpose.

Regarding AMERICAN WIFE, I have said that I related to Alice's doormatty qualities...in a lot of ways I am a coward as well. My real question about Alice is, would she have been that way if she hadn't been responsible for her first love's death? How did that effect her view of life...and how she related to the world? You could say she was a bit that way before the tragedy, but if it had not happened she might have grown into a strong and assertive woman. It's always interesting to see how people react to tragedy...some get stronger...others get weaker.
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Dana_Jean on Wed Feb 04, 2009 10:08 am

I'm not sure if the strangeness and confusion were intentional Betsy, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt that it was.

As far as Wife, I think her small town upbringing, and her own personality sort of destined Alice to be a doormat. I do believe the tragedy did shape her future, and although she was well-off with opportunities most of us only dream of, she never fully accepted all her blessings, almost like she felt she didn't really deserve to live a full life since she had taken someone else's. I think the guilt was never far from her thoughts and she punished herself as often as she could. Surrounded by luxury. Hmmm, some punishment.
You know what I mean. Sometimes the worst punishment happens in our own heads.
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Re: Words + Pictures: American Wife & American Widow

Postby Betsy_Boo on Wed Feb 04, 2009 5:51 pm

Exactly. I couldn't have said it better myself. Obviously the sexual humiliation she put herself through with Pete after the accident was a way of punishing herself. You've actually given me a lot to think about DJ...sometimes I think I subconsciously punish myself...especially with some of the crap I put up with.
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