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'Rodham' Review

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Yeah, "the writing part of the writing is very good" should be a thing most writers try for!

The lack of policy, and Sittenham's quoted "yeah so?" about it, do strike me as weird and worth criticising in a book about a politician. If you're going to argue This Would Be Better, we surely have to see how, it can't just be personality based. (Obviously a lot of readers disagreed but I disagree with them so checkmate!)

One thing that has always struck me: it's a book about two people still alive and married, saying "wouldn't it have been better if they weren't?"
That feels a bit Wrong in a way most AH politician stuff doesn't.
 

M_Kresal

I am nerd, hear me bore.
Published by SLP
Location
North Alabama
A superb review, @SpanishSpy. A review that makes me both want to read it still (as it's been on TBR list for a bit now, as we talked about elsewhere) and makes me think I'm going to be a tad frustrated with it when I do.

The more AH I read and indeed write, the more right I think you are about writers falling into the temptation of trinketization. Indeed, reading the review, I can't help but wonder if this would have worked better as a Roman a clef like what George Bernau did with JFK and the mid-sixties in Promises To Keep (which I'll be reading in the near future). But, if Sittenfeld had done that, would as many people have read it?
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Pronouns
He/Him
But, if Sittenfeld had done that, would as many people have read it?
This is a weird example of something actually being written/pushed as alternate history for the sake of marketing. Almost always (especially in "pop epic" fiction of this kind), it's the opposite-something that could easily be considered "AH as a setting" but isn't labeled as such because there's no financial gain in doing so. (Or, in an extreme case like Gragg's The Red Line, being clumsily turned from a historical into a contemporary setting).

(And yes, I do find works of fiction involving real, living, politically prominent people uncomfortable)
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
Late response because my procrastination knows no bounds.

I honestly think this is the best review you've written, @SpanishSpy . Critical but also evenhanded.
It's a book where there's a lot to unpack - I find it easier to write about books like that. Being crafted by a 'literary' author certainly helps.

Certainly worthwhile to consider about what the quality of prose you could be aiming for is regardless of anything else.
I had a conversation with @Beata Beatrix once in one of the Zoom calls where we agreed that alternate historians generally need to read more widely, to improve prose quality and literary craft. I can tell that both Harry Turtledove and Kim Stanley Robinson are like that (the latter experiments more with form), and it's what I aspire to be. Of course, I'll probably end up a latter-day Ignatius Reilly.

Yeah, "the writing part of the writing is very good" should be a thing most writers try for!

The lack of policy, and Sittenham's quoted "yeah so?" about it, do strike me as weird and worth criticising in a book about a politician. If you're going to argue This Would Be Better, we surely have to see how, it can't just be personality based. (Obviously a lot of readers disagreed but I disagree with them so checkmate!)

One thing that has always struck me: it's a book about two people still alive and married, saying "wouldn't it have been better if they weren't?"
That feels a bit Wrong in a way most AH politician stuff doesn't.
The book very much treats Hillary as a symbol of a vaguely defined and yet overbearingly arrogant form of upper-class progressivism, who is treated as being enough by virtue of existing. I like Andrea Long Chu's phrasing of it as Sittenfeld thinking that she's the first person to discover that women are people.

Alex's review is balanced, fair and insightful but I must admit I also really like the review from the jewish chronicle by Andrea Long Chu he linked to which just rips the book and the author to shreds.
I agree with Sittenfeld on one thing regarding that review: it is very well written.

A superb review, @SpanishSpy. A review that makes me both want to read it still (as it's been on TBR list for a bit now, as we talked about elsewhere) and makes me think I'm going to be a tad frustrated with it when I do.

The more AH I read and indeed write, the more right I think you are about writers falling into the temptation of trinketization. Indeed, reading the review, I can't help but wonder if this would have worked better as a Roman a clef like what George Bernau did with JFK and the mid-sixties in Promises To Keep (which I'll be reading in the near future). But, if Sittenfeld had done that, would as many people have read it?
'Frustrating' is a very good word to describe it. I feel like Sittenfeld was so close conceptually to getting something that was workable, but she ultimately didn't care enough to do so.

And I agree that the whole AH aspect acts as effectively a marketing ploy-cum-wish fulfillment for a certain sort of progressive.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
One thing that stood out:

It is a phenomenally odd experience to read Hillary Rodham as a fawning law student and Bill Clinton as Casanova in a romance that can get rather steamy, and physically detailed to boot.
which I bet is weirder to read than if you're reading about fictional characters Diane Rockingham and Clint Blythe who are Clintony figures. But of course, at college he was a Casanova to her fawning law student and their romance got steamy & physical! Still unsettling to get reminded of it, like if a book about Theresa May opened with her fussing over a dog and going "oosa good boy OOSA GOOD BOY" or something.
 
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