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Book club questions for Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld takes a closer look at this retelling of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review.
What does Hillary’s life look like if she’s not with Bill? It’s such an interesting concept. Especially as people try to say her success is tied to him; it’s very apparent that she is fully capable on her own. The author Curtis Sittenfeld did her research with this, reading pretty much everything she could about the Clintons as well as the perspectives of other women senators.
I urge you all to read this column she wrote for The Guardian about why she decided to write the book. She wrote that this story “tapped into my fascination with politics, fame, and the discrepancy between our public and private selves – all themes I first explored in my 2008 novel American Wife, which was a fictionalized retelling of the life of Laura Bush.
But where American Wife mostly embellishes the real or historical timeline, Rodham creates a parallel universe. What I didn’t know when I embarked on writing in March 2017 was how much I’d teach myself – or perhaps I should say how much Hillary would teach me.”
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
Book Club Questions for Rodham
- What do you think about Curtis’s decision to write a retelling of Hillary’s life?
- How much did you know about Hillary, beyond the basics, prior to reading the novel? What’s your opinion of her?
- In the novel, Curtis really dives into her relationship with Bill including the passion and similarities in career aspirations. We know this is fiction but still based on a real couple. Do you think this was a realistic portrayal of their relationship for the most part? Where do you think the author took fictional liberties with it? Do you think they’re happy in their marriage?
- Let’s talk about why Hillary was so drawn to Bill to begin with. She talks about her failure to connect with men as they seem to treat her as almost like a fellow guy and not a romantic interest. How did Bill treat her differently in the beginning of their courtship?
- Hillary has said that she turned down Bill a couple times before finally accepting his marriage proposal. Why do you think she turned him down before eventually saying yes?
- Hillary is the protagonist but it turns out that Bill is antagonist—even though they break up, she never can quite escape her relationship with Bill. What did you think about the author’s portrayal of Bill and his affairs?
- Once they break up, Hillary forges her own path and like in real life, she becomes a senator. What did you think about the sections dedicated to her senate run?
- She never does marry and doesn’t have a child in this timeline. It’s interesting that the media still finds something to target with her—in this case, it’s her single status. She still deals with plenty of misogyny and just general BS as a female politician. Why do you think the media is so concerned with the personal lives of female candidates?
- Many times, Hillary remarks that Bill is probably the love of her life (before the 2005 meeting). Let’s talk about this.
- And now let’s talk about when Hillary goes to visit Bill at his place in California. She thinks they’re both single and they might hook up again, maybe even get back together. But Bill rebuffs her and she’s angry and humiliated. Let’s talk about this scene.
- Like in real life, Hillary makes a couple presidential runs. But the fictional 2016 election is miles away from the real one. In this timeline, she’s running against Bill and Donald Trump ends up endorsing Hillary (!). Why do you think the author decided to have Bill run such a nasty campaign against Hillary as opposed to Trump in this timeline?
- Hillary secures the victory and becomes the first woman president. Let’s talk about this.
- What do you think a Hillary presidency would have looked like in real life? Do you think Bill was an Achilles heel for her during the run?
- The story ends with Hillary thinking: “If I’ll never know how much this was my path because of fate and how much because I willed it, the question is less important than that I made it across. Now other women know they, too, can make it, and not because I or anyone else tells them. They know because they’ve seen it happen.” When do you think we’ll finally see a woman president?
- The story talks about tradeoffs. In letting go of Bill, Rodham misses out on marriage and having a child. But in doing so, she eventually becomes the president. Let’s discuss this concept of tradeoffs in life.
- Let’s talk about the differences between fate vs free will. Is it one or the other or is life a balance between the two?
What to Read Next
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for Rodham! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
If you haven’t read Becoming yet, add it to the list your list immediately!
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza
Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state.
Once the campaign gets underway, Charlotte is blindsided by just how dirty her opponent is willing to fight, how harshly she is judged by the press and her peers, and how exhausting it becomes to navigate a marriage with an increasingly ambivalent and often resentful husband. When the opposition uncovers a secret that could threaten not just her campaign but everything Charlotte holds dear, she has to decide just how badly she wants to win and at what cost.
A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle.