Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.2 MB
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.
THE FIRST TIME I SAW him, I thought he looked like a lion. He was six foot two, though I knew then only that he was tall. And in fact, his height seemed even greater because he was big-tall, not skinny-tall. He had broad shoulders and a large head and his hair was several inches longer than it would be later, which drew attention to its coppery color; his beard was the same shade. I suppose I thought he looked like a handsome lion, but even from a distance, he seemed full of himself in a way that canceled out his handsomeness. He seemed like a person who took up more than his share of oxygen.
This sighting took place in Yale Law School’s student lounge, in the fall of 1970—my second year of law school and his first. I was with my friend Nick, and Bill was speaking in his loud, husky, Southern-accented voice to a group of five or six other students. With great enthusiasm, he declared, “And not only that, we grow the biggest watermelons in the world!”
Nick and I looked at each other and began laughing. “Who is that?” I whispered.
“Bill Clinton,” Nick whispered back. “He’s from Arkansas, and that’s all he ever talks about.” The next thing Nick told me was actually, at Yale Law School, less notable than being from Arkansas. “He was a Rhodes scholar.”
After I’d been accepted at both Harvard and Yale, I’d decided where to go using a rule I’d established for myself at such an early age—probably in third or fourth grade—that I had trouble remembering a time when I hadn’t abided by it. Though I’d never discussed it with anyone, I thought of it as the Rule of Two: If I was unsure of a course of action but could think of two reasons for it, I’d do it. If I could think of two reasons against it, I wouldn’t. Situations arose, of course, where there were two or more reasons both for and against something, but they didn’t arise that frequently.
Should I, as a high school freshman, take Latin? Because I’d heard the teacher was outstanding and because it would help me with the SATs—yes.
Should I attend my church youth group’s retreat at Gebhard Woods State Park if it meant missing my friend Betty’s sweet sixteen party? Because the date of the retreat had been announced first and because a church event was inherently more moral than a party—yes.
Should I style my hair in a beehive? (Yes.) Should I major in history? (No.) Should I major in political science? (Yes.) Should I start taking the pill? (Yes.) After Dr. King’s assassination, should I wear a black armband? (Yes.) That my “reasons” were often simply articulations of my own preferences wasn’t lost on me. But in the privacy of my own head, who cared?
The reasons I’d ultimately chosen Yale were: (1) its commitment to public service, and (2) when I’d attended a party at Harvard Law after my acceptance there, a professor had declared that Harvard didn’t need more women. As with Yale, the number of female law students at Harvard was then at about 10 percent, and I was slightly tempted to enroll just to spite this professor. But only slightly.