In Rodham (Random), Curtis Sittenfeld (American Wife, Sisterland) imagines an alternate history where Hillary says no to Bill Clinton’s proposal of marriage and gets on with the life Sittenfeld might have us believe the one-time presidential nominee was meant for.
So much has been written about Hillary Rodham Clinton that it’s easy to forget anything but the pictures that have been built. The disappointed presidential hopeful. The corporate grasper. The wronged wife. But if we put all of that aside, and come back to who she was before Bill, it’s easy to see that things could have gone very differently.
In 1971, Hillary Rodham already looked like someone who could grow to become president. Life magazine covered her Wellesley commencement speech. She attended Yale Law School, and was on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement.
Enter Bill and an emotional, intellectual and — as Sittenfeld makes very clear — physical bond that eclipsed anything either had previously experienced.
IRL, Clinton proposed to the already politically focused young goddess several times. Hillary turned him down repeatedly though, of course, she ultimately agreed to marry him. In Rodham, though, Hilary says no and gets on with her life. A life that, unencumbered by her philandering and less-brilliant-than-her husband produces different outcomes: perhaps the life that could have been?
The margin between staying and leaving was so thin. Really, it could have gone either way. Sometimes I think that my years of diligent schoolwork and political idealism had given me the erroneous notion that if one choice, one plan, was hard and the other was easy, doing the hard thing was inherently better, more upstanding.
Curtis Sittenfeld mined some of this territory in 2008’s American Wife, a book that was a fictionalized version of a thinly veiled Laura Bush. Rodham is a different sort of animal, though and, even if there are a few too many sex scenes, it is so much more than a wistful look at what might have been.
For those who care about such things, Hulu is already developing Rodham as a drama series. Sarah Treem will write the adaptation
based on the book by Curtis Sittenfeld, comes from The Affair co-creator Sarah Treem (The Affair, How to Make it In America) , for studio-based the Littlefield Company. Deadline Hollywood has that story here. ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.