Her mother, Elizabeth "Betsy" Curtis Bascom , is an art history teacher and librarian at Seven Hills School , a private school in Cincinnati, and her father, Paul George Sittenfeld, is an investment adviser. She is of "half-Catholic, half-Jewish" background. Some think Ault is a thinly veiled Groton School , but others say it is based on the two years Sittenfeld spent teaching at St. Albans School in Washington, D.
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Share via Email Curtis Sittenfeld. It was the day a certain book was published and, always a keen reader anyway, she was especially eager to curl up with this one. On the surface, Sittenfeld seems an unlikely fan.
It is doubtful that she was the reader Laura Bush had in mind when she wrote her autobiography. Two years ago, however, Sittenfeld published a novel, American Wife, which is easily one of the best books written so far this century. It is honest, wonderful and smart as hell, the kind of book that you try to eke out to make it last as long as possible none of which are qualities that anyone would ascribe to the Bush presidency.
And — in a twist that is about as unlikely as the liberal Sittenfeld making her bookstore order for Spoken from the Heart — it is a fictionalised account of the life of Laura Bush , whom she calls Alice Blackwell.
In other words, Sittenfeld gazumped Bush on the telling of her life and told it not only better, but with surprising accuracy, considering she had never met her. Even aside from the inevitable repetition of scenes between the two books — killing her classmate in a car crash when she was in high school, her surprising admission to reporters that she is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage — the similarities in tone between are so strong that to read Spoken from the Heart was, Sittenfeld laughs over breakfast in her local diner in Iowa, "disorienting, interesting and strange.
That self-restraint, I guess. All too often political novels descend from satire into cheap farce," wrote Joe Klein, reviewing American Wife in Time magazine in , with, it is safe to say, a certain amount of personal experience in the matter.
And one can see what the editors meant, sort of: Prep tells the story of an awkward, prickly teenager, Lee Fiora, and her ultimately fruitless attempts to fit in at a smart New England boarding school, Ault. It has all the soapiness that one would hope for in a book set in a boarding school who is secretly sleeping with whom, who gets voted class president, etc , but it is written with astonishing precision and intelligence, as though Gossip Girl was set in Middlemarch.
But most publishers went to the same school as most film studio heads, the one that teaches them that if a novel or movie is successful, they should just keep remaking that same story, watered down, with decreasing quality. After all, surely the public only wants the same thing over and over as opposed to anything smart enough to be original.
Yet, funnily enough, when Prep eventually was published by the 15th publisher on the list, it was a massive bestseller. So with Prep she took on the teenage boarding school novel and turned it into something that sensitive teenagers and bright adults enjoy. And then with American Wife, she did something even harder than applying intelligence to chick lit: she took her longstanding fascination with Laura Bush "my friends think the Republican party planted a chip in my brain and not only explained it, but made the Bushes seem human.
Her husband, a university professor in communications, whom Sittenfeld married two years ago, looks after their month-old daughter while we talk.
It was at the workshop, in fact, as a student that she first began writing Prep when she was studying under teachers such as Marilynne Robinson, author of Home and Gilead, which at least partly explains the sense of calm wisdom that her books radiate. But it also clearly comes from her. Just as Prep combines a maturity of narratorial tone and a jittery teenage protagonist, so Sittenfeld is an intriguing mix of self-deprecation and self-confidence.
Even after three books, she talks about how she is currently working on another novel in audibly ironic quotation marks, as though she still feels, as she puts it when it is pointed out to her, "something of a fake".
Yet the occasional nerviness belies some steely self-belief. Sittenfeld shifts a little uncomfortably when I bring it up. But only at first: "I think sometimes books are taken a bit less seriously if they have a more female — um, you know what I mean? And," she says, palpably beginning to warm up and calm down, "I think in general, novels by men tend to be taken more seriously than novels by women.
But I also think that novels being taken seriously is kind of a nebulous concept. I mean, what does that mean? Getting multiple reviews in the New York Times? Personally, I have never wished I were a male novelist. Sittenfeld is already looking forward to doing the same with her daughter, and has been saving the Harry Potter books for when she can read them with her children.
She also went to the very smart boarding school Groton and has had to expend a lot of energy ever since insisting that, while Ault in Prep "without a doubt resembles the school I went to, the story is not autobiographical".
Cedar Rapids was changed to Iowa City.
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