December 22, 2008

The reports of her life may have been greatly exaggerated


Those who decry the waning influence of literature upon public discourse should take heart from the way Curtis Sittenfeld‘s novel about Laura Bush, American Wife, seems to have prompted — and really, what else could it have been? — a reassessment by the American intelligencia (a term used advisedly) of the First Lady as something other than an over-medicated Stepford zombie and something more like a trapped and suffering human who, just like the rest of us, knows that her husband is a murdering bastard possessing an evilness of Biblical proportions. And what else but the expectation of such released humanity could explain the eagerness (and the promises of huge advances) with which big publishing greeted the news that she was going to write a memoir? (See the earlier MobyLives reports here and here.) But alas, whatever the generosity of spirit towards her inspired by Sittenfeld, a report in The New Yorker by Sheelah Kolhatkar indicates that all previous assessments of Laura Bush may have been wide of the mark. Kolhatkar reports that a series of editors and publishers from the big houses have been flying to Washington to meet with Bush and her agent, attorney Robert Barnett, to discuss her proposed book, and are coming away in serious doubt about her willingness to openly discuss matters of controversy. “We questioned her rigorously, but it was one-word answers,” one of the publishers tells Kolhatkar. “I considered it the worst, or the most frustrating, meeting of its sort that I’ve ever had.” Another publisher tells her, “I chose not to meet with her. I got the impression that everyone was totally underwhelmed by her. That’s why there’s so little buzz.” And is she a narcotized robot, or a repressed Democrat a la Sittenfeld? Asked if he got an impression of the real Laura Bush and her true political sensibility, one of the publishers who met with her tells Kolhatkar that, well, “You got the sense she’s just like him.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives