Curtis Sittenfeld is an author I have enjoyed for years (and still enjoy), so when I heard about Rodham, her alternate history political novel about the life of Hillary Clinton, I knew that despite my issues with the entire concept, I had to read this book. And boy … it sure is fanfiction.
Rodham is based around the concept of “What would the trajectory of Hillary Clinton’s life be if she had never married Bill Clinton?”
Part One of the book deals with their romance, complete with some sex scenes that will make you cringe—nothing as bad as some of the fake scenes that have been floating around, but at one point he says that she has a delicious “honeypot,” and I had to step away from my Kindle.
Where Sittenfeld is reverent of Hillary Clinton, portraying her as a smart, capable if out of touch, and sometimes too privileged white lady, she is much more critical of Bill Clinton. Bill does get to be seen has handsome, intelligent, and charismatic, but is also a hyper-sexual man-child, who is chronically unfaithful and a rapist. He leaves a lasting mark on Hillary’s life, but we see that, in the mind of Sittenfeld, the key to Bill’s success is his wife.
As someone who voted for Hillary in 2016 and thinks she is highly intelligent but has serious issues with some of her politics, the biggest thing I felt while reading Rodham was a sense of disconnect about what a Hillary Clinton victory means for “women.” Bill Clinton may be baggage on his wife, but he is the baggage she claimed.
Removing Bill from Hillary’s life when they are still together, still a “power couple,” and she has stood by him after sexual assault allegations, removes part of who she is. That’s her man of 45 years. Whatever massive faults in his character, she has chosen to stand by him in the face of massive public scrutiny.
Part of Hillary Clinton’s personhood is that she chose her heart over her head. That’s why she married her husband and, rather than staying in Washington where she could rise, she followed Bill to Arkansas, and the rest is history.
When discussing this book with my brother, we both asked ourselves, “What is the obsession with Hillary Clinton?” From the right—who loathe her more than they hate racists, pedophiles, and the habitually incompetent—to the white women of the Democratic left who are obsessed with her as a figure of feminism taken to its final form.
But that is an oversimplification of a lot of things. Do I want to see a female President in my lifetime? Absolutely. Would I have been mad if it was Hillary Clinton? No, I voted for her, but she is just one more step in the foundation towards that goal. Her being denied it, despite the fact that it was bullshit, is just more of a reason to go forward. Ultimately, her baggage—her Bill Clinton-size baggage—was part of her legacy, and fictionalizing an alternate world doesn’t allow us to come to terms fully with who this woman still is.
That’s the other thing: They are still alive, married, and probably still having sex. I don’t want to read scenes of Bill fingering Hillary Clinton in a car. I’m a good, tax-paying citizen. I don’t deserve this.
Rodham has been picked up and is in development by Fox 21 Television Studios and Charlotte-based Littlefield Company, so we will have all this Billary AU fucking on our televisions someday soon. *Dry heaves.*
Maybe one day we can do one of these AUs that depicts a world where progress happens not just for white cis women, but for all women. Reconstruction without all the bullshit acquiescence to the South. Shirley Chisholm becomes president in ’72 instead of Nixon. We don’t invade Iraq. Just fun little things like that.
I don’t disagree that we would most likely be in a different place under a Clinton presidency, but this book can’t erase the fact that the structures that kept Clinton out of office are bigger than just her choice of partner.
Rodham isn’t a bad book; it just feels like it was written by someone turning Clinton into even more of a figurehead than she already is.
(image: AFP/AFP via Getty Images)
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