Who Rules the World? Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld

Maybe if she had just said no.

Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but once in a while that question comes up in conversation — what if you answered a life-altering question differently? Where would you be today?

I was scary young when I got married — so young, that my now young adult-ish children like to remind me of that when I am about to dole out relationship advice, to which I can only say that I was wicked lucky to have met the love of my life when I did. We as mere mortals cannot control the fates that bring us together with our soulmates. Also, it was a good band playing at the bar that night.

So … if Hillary had just said no to Bill — where would her career have taken her?

This is the question Curtis Sittenfeld answers in “Rodham,” a fictional tale about the life of Hillary Rodham, an early love of Bill Clinton’s while she was at Yale Law School, who then went on to … well, other things.

The book has been out long enough that it isn’t necessarily bad form to reveal the plot, but part of the reason it was so much fun to read is the “not knowing” where it’s going to go. I will say this — the imagined Hillary Clinton is just as, if not more, ambitious than the one that exists in reality.

Throughout the book, I found myself wondering exactly how much Sittenfeld pulled out of research to color this version of Hillary’s world. Was there really a Mr. Gurski in Park Ridge that mouthed off to a school-aged Hillary? Is James an amalgam for a unrequited love? Does her fictional staff align with her real one? (WHO is Huma?!?!?) Part of the fun was trying to decipher if there were any connections to reality I could recognize.

And then there’e the gamut of reactions readers may have — sadness, for example, that some friendships just don’t work out. Anger, occasionally, that women will capitulate to men in deference to a longer term goal. (There is one particular scene that I just had a truly difficult time imagining would have happened the way it goes down in the book, and then I reminded myself, this is fiction and this is, after all, Hillary. And she wanted that job. Bad.) And contentment, even, to just have a glimpse of what could have been. What may still be someday.

I had hoped to read this at the end of 2020, but in a nod to irony, Hillary (and Curtis) had to wait for me to finish Obama’s memoir first. But if you are looking for an intriguing weekend read, this does not disappoint at all. It was a page turner that kept me up at night and left me satisfied at the end. Highly recommend!

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