In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
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I love Alice Munro for every possible reason. I feel like she does everything so well. I love the complexity and scope and ambition of her plots. I love how she gives her characters these incredibly rich, sophisticated inner lives, even when they’re rural. So many people think if you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York, you don’t have a rich, complicated inner life and I think that’s preposterous. I feel like her writing is so true and alive that you’d rarely read a story and think ‘Oh, that’s like a lovely, flowery, beautiful sentence’, but you’d think, ‘Oh my god that’s such a devastating and accurate insight.’. She is so smart and unapologetic in showing people as they are with all their flaws and their self-interest. I just love Alice Munro.
The fourteen stories in this brilliant collection show Alice Munro coming home to southwestern Ontario, with Toronto looming on the horizon. Even “To Reach Japan,” where a Vancouver mother takes her young daughter across the country by train, ends in Toronto. On that journey, different kinds of passion produce surprises, both on the journey and at its end.
The range of storytellers is astonishing, as we hear the young voices of women recalling their teenage years and the equally convincing voice of an old woman fighting Alzheimer’s. Margaret Atwood once shrewdly noted that “pushing the sexual boundaries is distinctly thrilling for many a Munro woman,” and very few of these stories deal with men and women in sedate, conventional domestic settings.
Munro admirers will see that these stories are shorter than many in her recent collections, but they have all the sharpness, accessibility, and power of her earlier work, and they are—as always—full of “real” people. The final four works (“not quite stories”) bring the author home, literally. She writes: “I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.”
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