Asking the question, What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton?, Rodham speculates a future for Hillary and explores what contemporary politics in the US could look on the other side of a sliding doors moment.
This is one of those rare books where if you’re not feeling it at the start, it’s worth persevering. The first part feels awkward, uncomfortable and like something you shouldn’t be reading. It’s not the fault of the author, it’s because this is the part of the book that happened, albeit fictionalised. Reading sex scenes with fictional characters is one thing, but reading sex scenes with fictionalised real people, fictionalised real high-profile politicians, is another.
Reading about Bill’s infidelity from the perspective of Hillary makes you furious. It makes you wonder why the real Hillary stayed but gives you a fictional Hillary to cheer to independence. From here, things get exciting.
I expected to enjoy this book but I didn’t expect to be emotionally invested. My heart raced with her challenges, I mourned her setbacks, and I celebrated her triumphs. I yearned for a reality where this is what happened.
But fictional Hillary isn’t perfect and that makes her more real and relatable. There’s a key thread that tackles race relations and intersectional feminism, but, no doubt knowing most readers are white women, it’s a thread of processing and learning, rather than confrontation and rejection.
There are other ethical challenges as well, but going into detail would be a spoiler.
What is confronting, particularly for an Australian reader, is the outrageous scene that is US politics. The money, the power, the bullshit, the carry-on. Between this book and the 2020 election, you understand why the US is considered a flawed democracy.
One of my favourite subtle nods to real life in the speculative Hillary was her use of her mobile phone. Such as the (real) iconic photo of her on the plane looking at her phone, or the many (real) photos of her taking selfies with supporters, that was reflected in (fictional) Hillary sending text messages to a woman undergoing chemotherapy. It felt real because you’ve seen this type of interaction played out in the real world. It was a mirror.
It’s so well crafted that because of a fictional Hillary I feel connected to the real Hillary. It blurs the lines between what is real and what isn’t.
I love the concept and I loved the book. And I love the idea that somewhere out there is a parallel universe where this is reality.