ALERT: this review is one giant spoiler. It is impossible to give you a sense of this book without giving away the key aspects of the plot. So let me start with a few points before you decide to read on. First, if you do not like Hillary Clinton, do not read this book. However, if you do not like Bill Clinton, you might want to read this book! Are you torn? A few more things before you decide to read on. Curtis Sittenfeld is not a great writer. She is good enough but not really all that good. The book is too long and bogs down on things like Hillary’s sex life and campaigning. The story, however, is incredibly clever.
If you are going to read this book and do not want to know the twists, STOP HERE.
“Rodham” is an alternate history about what might have happened if Hillary Rodham had not married Bill Clinton. Hillary meets Bill while they are both law students at Yale. Hillary is well known for a commencement speech she gave at Wellesley and her activism at Yale. Hillary is very close to Gwen and Richard Greenberger. Richard is a constitutional lawyer at Yale and Gwen runs the National Children’s Initiative, where Hillary was doing some research. “He was white and Jewish and from Georgia, and she was black and Baptist and from New York…” Hillary meets Bill and immediately feels drawn to him. When he ultimately pursues her, they become a couple. Gwen Greenberger does not approve, and her disapproval tugs at Hillary.
Bill has very defined political ambitions and is planning to spend the summer in New Haven working on the McGovern campaign. Hillary has accepted a summer associate position with a law firm in San Francisco. Ultimately, Bill decides to forego working on the McGovern campaign to join Hillary in San Francisco, although he does not have a job. Toward the end of their time in San Francisco, Hillary catches Bill cheating on her. Bill is portrayed as a sex addict and Hillary puzzles over what this means for their future together. “…discerning his flaw meant that if I could live with it, I could keep him.” Hillary spends a lot of the book ruminating over her romantic life and the manner in which she affects others.
Ultimately, Hillary gives up on her dreams and moves to Arkansas with Bill. Gwen is very disappointed in Hillary’s decision and makes her opinion known. Their relationship is tense. Bill immediately runs for Congress and Hillary begins teaching at the law school. During the campaign, she begins to question his ethics, such as when he accepts a paper bag full of cash that he intends to use in illegal ways. During a shopping trip a woman approaches Hillary and tells her that Bill had forced himself on her. Hillary confronts Bill and he denies it, but ultimately Hillary determines she cannot live with his unfaithfulness and moves back to her hometown of Chicago.
Hillary begins teaching law at Northwestern and becomes friendly with another professor, James. They become very close, but he is married and they never have a physical relationship. During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, it becomes clear that the Democratic Senator from Illinois is going to vote in favor of Thomas. As a result, Hillary is approached about running against him in the Democratic primary. She agrees but when Carol Mosely Braun enters the race Hillary decides not to run. However, it becomes clear that Carol Mosely Braun will not win, so Hillary enters the race and ultimately becomes a Senator from Illinois. She is 44 years old. Gwen expresses her disdain over Hillary’s decision to run against an African American and their relationship is permanently frayed.
In the meantime, Bill has married Sarah Grace Hebert and has two children. He contacts Hillary after 16 years of silence to let her know that he has decided to run for President. Stories of his infidelities become public and he and Sarah are interviewed on 60 Minutes. Sarah bursts into tears during the interview and Bill withdraws from the race.
Hillary makes her first run for President in in 2003. She makes her second run in 2008 and loses in the primary to Barack Obama. In the meantime, Bill has become a fantastically wealthy tech giant.
Hillary decides to run for President again in 2015. She is the strongest candidate in the democratic primary. Then late in the game, Bill Clinton announces that he too, is running. You can see where this is headed, right? After a lot of machinations, and a part of the book that is way too long and dull, Hillary gets the endorsement of none other than Donald Trump, runs against Jeb Bush and HILLARY WINS!
As I said at the beginning, the story is really clever, some of the thoughts and reckonings attributable to Hillary are interesting and the outcome is obviously very different from our real lives. Sittenfeld gets bogged down in unnecessary details that take away from the cleverness of the story. The book could have been about 100 pages shorter and would have been much more impactful. But all in all, if you like Hillary Clinton, it is a very fun read. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.