"Instead of examining her from the outside and determining what she 'means,' I approached this novel with the question, 'What is it like to be her?' " the author tells PEOPLE

By Sam Gillette
February 03, 2020 05:00 AM

What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton? This question is the premise behind Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham, which will be published on June 30.

“There were countless pieces analyzing Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 election, and I found myself thinking not about how she looks to all of us, but how all of us look to her,” Sittenfeld tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement about the book, which will be released by Random House in the U.S. and Doubleday in the U.K. “Instead of examining her from the outside and determining what she ‘means,’ I approached this novel with the question, ‘What is it like to be her?’ “

Sittenfeld, who similarly fictionalized the life of former First Lady Laura Bush in American Wife, says she “also wondered what it might have been like if she had made different choices, personally and professionally, than the ones we now know so well.”

“I love writing (and reading) fiction because it allows me to really imagine the granularity and texture of another person’s feelings, days, habits, opinions, and secrets,” the author continues. “We all know that our own lives are complicated and contradictory. Fiction helps us recognize the complications and contradictions in other people’s lives.”

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Rodham does still trace Hillary’s love story with her Yale Law School classmate Bill. While the two share a “profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection,” she decides to turn down Bill’s multiple marriage proposals.

This choice splits her from history: In real life, of course, Hillary married the future 42nd president, joining him in the White House as first lady.

But Sittenfeld’s novel probes other questions, including: What would have happened to the former secretary of state and the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate if her legacy hadn’t been tied to her husband, who was impeached after his affair with a White House intern?

Random House
From left: Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton
Kevin Mazur/Getty
Curtis Sittenfeld
© Josephine Sittenfeld

She has experience creating literary works around high-profile women. Her 2008 hit novel, American Wife, was inspired by Bush. She’s also published Eligible, a fresh take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Sisterland, a haunting look at the connection between twin sisters; and The Man of My Dreams, a compelling story about one girl’s transition from adolescence to womanhood.

Her 2018 short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, features a story inspired by Hillary.

While Sittenfeld is known for her political fiction, she’s turned down one request dozens of times: She refuses to write a novel about First Lady Melania Trump.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton Says Trump’s ‘Reality-TV Performance’ Overshadowed Her in 2016 — but She Still Thinks About Beating Him

From left: First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

“First, I cannot imagine at this point voluntarily writing about the Trump administration because it has claimed so much of my mental energy, so much of my life, that to allow it to take up my writing time too feels like I would be giving up something very precious,” Sittenfeld told The Guardian in April 2018. “I don’t want to think about Trump more than I already am.”

She continued then: “Another reason is that I don’t like purely being satirical or savaging people. I really like writing about characters in a balanced, complicated way and I don’t think I could do that with Melania Trump. I don’t admire her. I don’t see her as one-dimensional, but neither do I see her as someone whose consciousness I yearn to explore.”

Rodham will be published on June 30.

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