Further Reading: Barbara Bush

Upon learning of Barbara Bush’s passing last night at the age of 92, my first thought was about what a fascinating lady she was: champion of literacy, doyenne of Kennebunkport, unparalleled rocker of unironic pearl necklaces. My second thought was of her son, but nobody has time to listen to my feelings about him. My next thought was of Curtis Sittenfeld.

In 2008, Sittenfeld wrote the astonishing American Wife, a novel told from the perspective of a barely fictionalized Laura Bush. It is easily one of the best books of and about the early 21st century, and one of my very favorite novels. It is also the inspiration of this first-ever single-title Further Reading.

Sittenfeld’s Barbara, Mrs. Priscilla Blackwell, is an imposing, snooty force just shy of Wilde’s Lady Bracknell. She runs the family in the manner of an Odysseus, but with Zeus-like authority. In short, she is terrifying and totally awesome in all senses of the word. This may be what she was like in real life, or maybe it wasn’t. It scarcely matters.

If you haven’t read American Wife, now’s the perfect opportunity. If you’re already a fan, sit for a moment with me and remember the scene when protagonist Alice announces her engagement:

I saw Mrs. Blackwell approaching; I smoothed my hair. The rest of them—they faded around me. That I was not afraid of Mrs. Blackwell was more or less true, at least in the abstract. But it was also true that when she turned her attention to me, I always felt, and not in a positive way, as if we were the only ones in the room and total vigilance were required.

She did not hug or kiss me, she didn’t touch me at all. She seemed both amused and dubious as she looked at me for a long moment before speaking. Finally, she said, “What a clever girl you are.”

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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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