American Wife
by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Random House, $26)

The summer’s “most delicious read” has finally hit bookstores, said Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. A novel loosely based on the life of first lady Laura Bush, American Wife earned early headlines for its daring descriptions of an illegal abortion and “steamy” pre–White House sex scenes. But it turns out to be an “intelligent, bighearted” book. Curtis Sittenfeld, a professed liberal, renders her Laura Bush stand-in, Alice Blackwell, as a “thoroughly decent” woman, said Laura Collins-Hughes in The New York Sun. The “ne’er-do-well” political scion whom Alice marries even harbors “a fundamental sweetness” beneath his party-boy charm. Though his politics aren’t hers, quiet Alice is an observer by nature, a lover of books who’s too alert to life’s complexities to cast contrary opinions into the path of her husband’s ascent. This is where Sittenfeld’s powers of empathy fail her, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Once he becomes president, Alice’s husband evinces no redeeming qualities. Sadly, Sittenfeld’s “meticulously created” heroine becomes a mere “sock puppet” for the author’s personal views “on the unhappy tenure of the Bush administration.”