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What Books Have You Read Lately?

Are you reading anything good right now? I just finished a book, and it was kind of strange…

The book is Rodham, the latest from Curtis Sittenfeld. The novel follows Hillary Rodham — yes, that Hillary Rodham — from her days as a Yale law student to the present day. But there’s one major difference. In reality, Bill Clinton proposed three times before Hillary said yes. In the novel, she never does. I don’t want to post any spoilers, so I’ll just say their lives go in very different directions. All the while, Sittenfeld incorporates real-world events, along with twists and turns readers can — and cannot — see coming.

To be clear, “strange” in this case is not synonymous with “bad.” Sittenfeld has proven herself as a master storyteller (Prep remains one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read), and this was no exception. The place where I got tripped up is that unlike American Wife, which was based on Laura Bush’s life but features a fictional character, this book is about flesh-and-blood Hillary, albeit a fabricated version. Also the real Bill Clinton. (And even the real Donald Trump.) To wit, in the early part of the book, when Bill and Hillary are first dating, there were a number of sex scenes that, while tame, still made me squirm with visions I could not un-see. I kept wondering: Has Hillary read this? and What would Chelsea think?

Ultimately, though, it was well worth the read. In a sliding doors sense, it made me think — about choices and how they change the course of our (and so many other people’s) lives. By turns witty and profound, an interesting exploration of female ambition and how it shifts and manifests, in the public eye and behind the curtain.

Now I’m diving into The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, which just published last week. Set in 1960s Louisiana, it follows Stella and Desiree Vignes, Black twin sisters who flee to New Orleans in search of a better life. When they arrive, Stella discovers she can pass as white, a decision that will change their relationship forever.

I adored Bennett’s first novel, The Mothers, and I’m already loving her second. I’ve also have heard (from pretty much every media outlet) that it’s nothing less than astonishing. Entertainment Weekly said, “For any era, it’s an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it’s piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be.”