Weekend Read: Rodham

Life is not fair. Unless maybe if you’re the Satan who’s watching the world from the Satan-place (possibly together with Karma). I knew this, and was again reminded of the theory of it when I read Maria Konnikova’s brilliant The Biggest Bluff. Life is absolutely not fair, even if your crystal collection tells you otherwise.

First exhibit: Justice Bader Ginsburg is receiving chemo since May because her cancer has returned. This makes it the fourth cancer she’s being treated for. She said in her statement that the treatment is yielding positive results and she will continue working. She’s 87.
She is eighty seven years old, being treated for the gazillionth cancer ravaging her tiny body, all the while working as the Supreme Court Justice, and much of the world looking on in shock “she must hold on until after the November elections”.

Second exhibit: US presidential elections in 2016. No need to further dwell on it, November is coming and it’s a new possibility. But 2016 was not fair, however you look at it, and especially if you look at it as a woman, it was a slaughter, an in-your-face mockery, words fail me. I did dwell on it a bit in 2017, though, and read two insightful books analysing the election, one by Hillary Clinton (What Happened) and another by Susan Bordo (The Destruction of Hillary Clinton). I wrote about the books earlier if you’re interested in having a look.

Seems that many others have reflected on the 2016 events as well, and one recent result is Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. It has been so much hyped that you will not have been able to escape this news. It’s a novel about Hillary Rodham who did not marry Bill Clinton, a marriage which in her words was “the most consequential decision of my life. I said no the first times he asked me.”

Sittenfeld is one of my favourite authors and writers, and Rodham was a bittersweet pleasure to read. It reminded me of the experience of reading Joyce Carol OatesBlonde, a fictional take on Marilyn Monroe’s life, which was so well written that it has been impossible for me to think of Monroe’s life in any other way than how Oates reimagined it. (If you are in the market for a summertime read, I recommend Blonde as well.)

Back to Rodham. It is fiction, but obviously punctuated by real-life events, and some speeches, comments and announcement have been incorporated in verbatim in the book. Knowing what we know now about what went on in the backrooms during the election, and how the election result eventually shaped the world beyond the US is the more bitter part of the reading experience.

The sweet part is reading about Rodham becoming the master of her own happiness in her struggles to make her way in the world of politics. Again, it’s a genius trompe l’oeil that expertly mixes facts with fiction – at least I started reimagining the life of Hillary Rodham/Clinton based on the novel. Knowing what happened to the real Hillary in 2016, I wanted to believe Sittenfeld’s Rodham is how the real Hillary is, or was then.

Bill Clinton plays a big role especially in the beginning of the novel and then returns for the inevitable political face-off. Rodham’s relationship with Clinton and her other romantic relationships have been imagined by Sittenfeld (except to the extent that Rodham did date Clinton at university, obviously). The part before Rodham’s split from Clinton has a beautifully nostalgic feel to it. It is at the same time a build-up for the biggest love story of the century and a big red flag flashing in front of Rodham’s face. The novel takes a more “realistic” turn when Rodham enters the politics and the story becomes more entangled with real life events.

I could not stop thinking what the real Hillary might think if she would read Rodham – which I’m quite sure she will, even if in secret. Descriptions of Rodham observing the well-documented extramarital sex affairs of Clinton as someone who did not marry him are delicious.

Rodham is a fascinating book for anyone with an interest in women in politics, and it helps to have an interest in US politics as well – though this is not necessary. And again, it’s a novel, not election analytics. Big recommendation for this summer.

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