Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Review by STEVEN TRAVERS
Rodham is a 2020 political novel, or more precisely a historical novel by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House). It is based on the premise that Hillary Rodham never married Bill Clinton in the 1970s. It is written as if voiced by Hillary herself. There is no record that Hillary cooperated with the project. It is favorable to her.
It begins in the late 1960s. Hillary is a law student at Yale. She describes how she was a “Goldwater girl” but then came to her senses, switching to the Democrat Party. She also describes her father, a Republican businessman in the Chicago suburbs, and totally throws him under the bus: uncaring, racist, misogynistic, the usual litany of Democrat lies describing Republicans.
She then meets Bill Clinton, who she describes as very large physically, larger than life otherwise, with enormous charisma, incredible intelligence, and a fabulous sense of humor. He has a great big reddish beard and eats up all the oxygen in the room. It is obvious that he is considered the star of Yale Law School, his political ambitions known by everyone. He is already a tremendous ladies man, popular with all the women, who he flirts with relentlessly. There is no question that he is a man going places, and anybody who hitches there wagon to his, whether they be a man, a woman or a romantic partner, is bound to go as far as he will go.
Hillary is not particularly attractive and has limited sexual experience, which she describes in squeamish detail, making the skin crawl. Bill, however, falls for her. He tells her she is pretty but is also drawn to her intellect. She is a star of sorts herself, having had her Wellesly College valedictorian address covered by the national media.
A romance ensues, and there are further agonizing pages describing sex between Hillary and Bill. She is extraordinarily happy to have Bill as her boyfriend. She has a summer internship in Oakland, California working pro bono for the poor. Bill is supposed to go to Washington, D.C. to work for the George McGovern Presidential campaign, but at the last minute decides to accompany Hillary to California. On the way they stop in Chicago to meet the Rodham family. Old man Rodham basically considers Bill a bearded Communist, but he has incredible people skills and manages to ingratiate himself with them anyway.
In Oakland Hillary works at a local law center. By day Bill reads and wanders around Lake Merritt. Shortly before heading back east at summer’s end, Hillary discovers that Bill is having a tryst with the daughter of her boss. She confronts him and he apologizes, promising never to do it again.
They finish school at Yale and head to Arkansas where Bill begins his political career. Hillary tags along, but they are not married. They plan to marry soon. Rumors of Bill’s philandering follow him around, but then one day a woman Hillary knows approaches her and tells her Bill Clinton raped her. Bill of course denies the accusation, which is not made public, but something tells Hillary she is better off not marrying Bill. They break up.
We pick up the story in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Hillary is a successful attorney but has never married. She has had a few relationships; again we must endure her talking about having sex. In 1992 Carol Moseley Braun declares her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. She is a black woman and her candidacy is historic. Despite this, Hillary throws her hat in the rings and wins, engendering a certain amount of animosity from the liberal wing of the Democrat Party.
In 1992 Bill Clinton challenges George Bush for the Presidency. The infamous accusations from torch singer Gennifer Flowers are presented. Bill, however, is not married to the aggressive, uber-politico Hillary Clinton, but rather to a typical Arkansas housewife. She withers under the pressure of the accusations and this deflates the Clinton campaign. Bush is re-elected.
In 1996 Jerry Brown is elected President, and in 2000, without the weight of Clinton’s adulteries front and center, the Christian George W. Bush is not able to win, but John McCain does. McCain wins again in 2004.
Meanwhile, Hillary builds her career as a solid progressive. There is little talk about terrorism, so perhaps it can be assumed that somehow in this alternate universe there is no 9/11. Senator Clinton runs for President in 2008 but loses in the primaries to Barack Obama, who goes on to win the White House. Absent the unpopular Iraq War, which weakened Bush, this seems a long shot, but this is Sittenfeld’s vision.
Hillary bidEs her time until 2016, when her opponent in the Democrat primaries is . . . surprise, Bill Clinton. After losing the Presidency in 1992 Bill has gone to Silicon Valley and become super wealthy in the tech sector. He calls Hillary, they catch up, but she is irritated that he intends to run. Now is her turn and this old flame is standing in the way?
Clinton riles up the crowds with heavy criticism of Hillary, causing the Democrats to chant, “Shut her up! Shut her up!” Hillary considers this utterly unfair. How dare she be criticized. She is Hillary Rodham, after all. The rules of politics should not apply to her.
She is also still single but meets as man in New York, and after her staff has focus-tested their relationship to good effect, they date and even sleep with each other, which continues to make the skin crawl.
Clinton appears to be winning until the woman who approached Hillary in the 1970s claiming Bill raped her now re-appears with the same accusations. Other women emerge with similar tales. Bill is done.
Then there is Donald Trump. For reasons that do not really add up, in this scenario he does not run for President, although the circumstances in America in the novel in 2016 are not much different from reality; namely, the country begging for a change after eight years of Obama.
Hillary meets Trump in the company of Bill, who is friends with him. It is implied they share women together. There is a rumor Bill attends sex parties with gorgeous girls serving wealthy men. Donald boast and stays if he ran he would win.
Somehow, Sittenfeld dreams up a scenario in which Hillary baits Trump into running, knowing he won’t, and the result of this, if it is to be believed, is that Trump will throw his support to her. It is never well explained how they pull this off but the reader must suspend his disbelief and it happens.
Trump then boasts that Hillary is in his back pocket; he will be the “real” President, et al. Hillary is elected but works with the Justice Department to indict Trump on various financial crimes.
The moral of the story of course is that Bill needed Hillary more than Hillary needed Bill.
Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the brand new Best Sports Writing Ever and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.