Sliding Doors for Hilary Rodham Clinton
Updated: Aug 1
By: Curtis Sittenfeld
This week’s book is a little controversial because as we all know, where Hilary goes controversy follows. I think it’s fair to say that people either love her or hate her and there is really no in-between. Without getting political, I will tell you that I chose this book because I love Curtis Sittenfeld and I have been waiting for her next book for a long time.
As you may know, Curtis Sittenfeld made her debut with her first novel, Prep, which is the story of students at a prep school in Massachusetts. Since then she has written: The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, which is a fictional story loosely based on Laura Bush, Sisterland, and one of my all-time favorites, Eligible. Rodham is her sixth novel.
Rodham is a partly fictional account of Hilary Rodham and how her life would have turned out if she had never married Bill Clinton. Part One of the novel is based on the actual facts of Hilary’s life. Her upbringing in Park Ridge, Illinois, her 4 years at Wesleyan with her famous commencement address to her graduating class, and her years at Yale Law School. The story becomes fiction when Bill and Hilary moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas after he finishes Yale Law School and runs for Congress. In reality, they moved to Texas to work on George McGovern’s campaign.
Towards the end of Part 1, after already proposing twice, Bill proposes marriage for a third time and Hilary finally believes she can accept his proposal. Soon after, for reasons you can probably guess, Hilary changes her mind and moves on to live her life without Bill. Part 2 begins years later in 1991 when Hilary is living a fictional life in Chicago and working as a law professor at Northwestern University.
I enjoyed the story of young Hilary, a driven girl from a young age. She likes boys, has friends and loves the Chicago Cubs. She says that she has always been rejected by the cute boys she liked and liked by the nerdy boys that bored her. In 7th grade, she professed her love for a friend named Bruce, a boy on student council with her. His reply was “You’re more like a boy than a girl.” And when she asked him how, he said, “The way you act and the way you talk.” Hilary Rodham never gets over this feeling of rejection and being thought of as a boy. Because of this, she carries an insecurity around with her about how men view her throughout her life.
After a few boring boyfriends in college and law school, she meets, handsome and charismatic Bill Clinton. He is a year behind her at law school but very well known as the brilliant Arkansas boy who won the Rhodes scholar. Bill Clinton is also known as a tremendous flirt. The attraction is instantaneous. And yet, Hilary cannot imagine why such a handsome man would be interested in her.
Sittenfeld is very good at creating a very likable, softer version of Hilary. This Hilary is enamored with Bill in Part 1. There are a lot of scenes describing their intimacy, which goes against much of what we hear about Hilary being a cold, icy woman. Throughout Part 1, Hilary can never really understand why Bill is equally smitten with her. Yes, he cheats, but he clearly was in love with her brilliance and intellect. In the novel, Hilary Rodham says “I knew plenty of smart people, but I’d never before encountered a person whose intelligence sharpened mine the way his did…”
In Rodham, Hilary said, “I needed to be realistic about what I can live with. Once I get married, I want to stay married.” And Sittenfeld’s version of Hilary knew that she couldn’t stay married to a man that would never be faithful and would always have a wandering eye.
Of course, the premise of the book is what many believe in real life, that Bill Clinton would never have been President if it weren’t for Hilary. She is the driving force behind his strength, the one who keeps him from doing idiotic things (most of the time), and without her, Bill would have failed in politics.
So, did Hilary sacrifice a successful political career for Bill? In the book, Hilary lets nothing stand in the way of her political ambitions. Sittenfeld makes a much more likable version of Hilary but also stays close to her real persona. True anecdotes from Hilary’s runs for Senate and the Presidency are interwoven, which seem very believable and at times I feel as if I am reading true fact.
Even though Hilary does not marry Bill in the novel, he remains a constant presence, and you wonder if she does in fact still carry a flame for him. Towards the end of the novel, she questions what her life would have been like in a parallel universe if she had married Bill Clinton. We all know the answer to that!
Above all, this book accomplishes a display in the struggles that any woman with ambition had in Hilary’s time and still has today. Throughout Hilary Rodham’s runs for public office, she repeatedly asks herself how she could have possibly done this while also having a husband and children. Any woman reading this novel will relate to her in that way. How truly hard it is for a woman to have it all. Sittenfeld also makes Hillary a flawed character. The real Hilary seems to be made of steel but the fictional Hilary Rodham is insecure and unsure of herself, afraid of rejection, and sometimes afraid of what people think of her.
Overall, Sittenfeld does a very good job of making a very believable novel about someone we all know well. The novel could have been about 75 pages shorter, which is why I only gave it three stars, but if you are a fan of politics, you will enjoy this cleverly woven story. This is the story of how life can turn out so differently by just changing one decision.
By: Curtis Sittenfeld
Publication Date: May 19, 2020