Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

In the classroom we often used to play a game of ‘What if . . .’ to show children ways in which they could generate something to write about. What if Barbie went into space? What if a tractor could talk? What if Superman got stuck on the clock tower? It was great and we used to take the ideas we liked and imagine what might happen. So, imagine my delight when I picked up Rodham and discovered that Sittenfeld had done just that. Imagined what might have happened if Hillary hadn’t married Bill.

It’s really quite good. Based on real life events that are written about in many other books, Sittenfeld marries the factual and imaginary well into one solid story that in places seems to go nowhere but eventually pops back up and hits you. I guess most people imagine that without Bill, Hillary would have run for president and that is what happens but the book has several twists and unexpected turns.

Trump makes an appearance, his words from his 2015 presidential announcement used, and adds a real-life dash of humour (well if it weren’t true it might have been funny) to the story towards the end. Is Sittenfeld a real fan of Hillary? It reads as if she is. Hillary does nothing wrong, and instances where the media make out that she has, the book explains how the incident came about by referring back to events mentioned earlier in the book. I didn’t catch on to the tights (pantyhose) incident but I did pick up on the student who hated what she stood for and wondered when he would come back into the story. Rest assured, he does.

Bill comes over as a charming, manipulative knob, so completely self-assured and addicted to sex even when in college. As they say, a leopard never changes its spots and he and Hillary keep an awareness of each other until finally Hillary understands what sort of person he is and truly leaves him. Like her or not, she undoubtedly worked hard, understood her briefs and prepped particularly well for all meetings giving her that slightly intense, not quite-normal behaviour so commented on by the media and all those who were a little threatened by it. The misogyny and sexism were daily and on a macro and micro scale and yet she still loved politics and wanted to be involved – as the book tells it. Because, let’s remember. This book is fiction!

The book does manage to shock towards the end, moving far more into flights of fantasy than it does earlier on when it is tied to real events. Sittenfeld makes her wait for success and we wait a long time for the fun.

This is a portrait of what might have been.

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