In her newest novel RODHAM, Curtis Sittenfeld presents us with an alternate history of what Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political career might have been had she not married Bill Clinton. It’s not the first time Sittenfeld has mined the life of a public figure; her protagonist in American Wife was based on Laura Bush.
The trajectory of Hillary’s adult life in RODHAM begins as in real life, she graduates from Wellesley College and delivers her renowned commencement speech. She then goes to Yale Law School where she meets Bill Clinton, a charismatic young man who is her intellectual equal. From the start, Bill is outspoken about his aspirations to be President of the United States. As they leave a party together, one of their friends quips that they shouldn’t get romantically involved because he isn’t sure it’s legal for a Supreme Court Justice to date the President of the United States.
The first part of the book details Hillary and Bill’s courtship. Hillary is drawn to Bill’s good looks and outgoing personality, as well as his intellect. Since elementary school it seemed that every boy she’d ever been attracted to did not feel the same way about her. So when Bill pursued her, she was flattered and somewhat grateful for his attention. Early on, Bill displays his penchant for big dreams as well as his big appetite — for French fries, ice cream sundaes, and sex.
In spite of early warning signs, Hillary decides to follow Bill to Arkansas where he plans to ultimately run for governor. In real life, Bill proposed marriage to Hillary several times before she finally accepted. In RODHAM, she eventually decides to leave Arkansas and Bill and returns to Chicago where she becomes a law professor, a Senator, and ultimately runs for President of the United States.
RODHAM is a glorious mash up of the real with the imagined. Sittenfeld inserts real-life people, including Donald Trump, into her alternate history with some surprising outcomes. A satisfying read for those of us who wish that we could have a do-over of the 2016 election.