Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld book cover
Book reviews

Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld

For the difficulties the idea poses, the world American writer Curtis Sittenfeld imagines in Rodham (published by Penguin Random House, 2020), is a little different to the one we’re familiar with. At least when it comes to presidents of the United States, and Hillary Clinton, nee Rodham, the former American Senator and Secretary of State.

In regards to presidents in the Rodham universe, George H. W. Bush serves two consecutive terms as president, after Bill Clinton withdrew from the 1991 election race. Former California governor Jerry Brown wins the presidency in 1996, but only lasts one term. John McCain, who in reality made two failed attempts at the presidency, served from 2001 to 2009, instead of George W. Bush.

Barack Obama however wins the 2008 election and serves two terms. But what, you ask, happened to Bill Clinton in 1991? The answer is, he no longer had Hillary Rodham at his side. In Sittenfeld’s re-imagining of Rodham’s life, she’d left Bill many years earlier. Without her support therefore, he had a lot more difficultly dealing with many of the scandals that embroiled him.

In this alternative reality then, Rodham asks what would have happened to Hillary if Bill was not around. Might she, for example, have had more chance of becoming president? It’s an intriguing premise, though in the end, the impact of Bill’s absence is somewhat overstated. For here there are more changes than merely the make-believe alterations of the Presidential succession line.

A number of significant events that in reality occurred, do not, for whatever reason, take place in this realm. And it is more this re-imagined history that ultimately makes the difference. While we’re probably all given-over to wondering how the world might have turned out if not for certain happenings, this is not quite the Hill minus Bill story some readers may have been expecting.