American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
First of all I have to say that I enjoyed American Wife more than Sittenfelds other novels (Prep, The Man of My Dreams, and possibly Posh), none of which I'd found particularly compelling. I'd forgotten enough about the book that I was able to come to it without expectations. I think that was the best way to read American Wife because it enabled me to get to know the protagonist without constantly comparing her to my preconceived notions about Laura Bush.
American Wife is an unapologetically long book (right about 550 pages), but while it does take some time to read, never did it feel too long. It's written in a memoir style, as if the first lady was looking back on her life. The fact that the novel focuses on Alice Blackwell's child- and young adulthood and her early marriage (and actually spend relatively little space on her life during her husband's political career) allows readers to really see her as a real person. We get to see her true self in a way that we as outsiders can never know a politician or celebrity no matter how much we may read about them in papers. She is someone, who like all of us has made mistakes, who doesn't always make the right decisions, and doesn't always have a clear sense of what the right decision is.
To me the fact that Alice was based on Laura Bush is immaterial. I liked the book for what it was, a character study of an interesting normal woman whose life becomes extraordinary simply because of the man she happened to marry.
I did not, however, care much for the ending. It seemed to me a bit inauthentic. The way Alice acts is less how she would act if she was in that particular situation than the way Sittenfeld wishes she would act.
One last comment, I read an advanced reader's edition, which did not include the author's note at the end of the novel (it was included in as much as there was a space to be filled by the author's note). I really wish I could have read that note, because I'm really interested in what Sittenfeld had to say about the novel and her experience writing it.