Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Lady from Plains

1984, 1985 Ballantine edition
Rosalynn Carter
First Lady from Plains
Possibly bought newish, for $3.95
Very worn paperback

At the time this book came out, Jimmy Carter's reputation was very bad.  As Rosalynn notes, things soured in 1979, primarily but not exclusively because of the Iranian hostage situation.  When Ronald Reagan, a man she completely disagreed with, came along with his glib optimism, Carter didn't stand a chance.  So, yes, she's bitter here, but she also still believed in America, and in her husband.  And she still does.  She's still active for the issues she's been concerned with for decades, like mental illness, and she and Jimmy have been together 66 years. 

I wish that the book hadn't gone so quickly through the time before Jimmy became governor.  I'm still not clear what drew the Carters together.  Yes, she thought he was handsome, and he was the brother of her best friend (and no doubt one of the few eligible men in the tiny town of Plains), but their courtship and even the early years of their marriage pass, as her childhood does, with just a page or two per year.  It's really only during the presidential years that I get a sense of their relationship, how they supported each other, despite disagreements.  I like how she shows what it was like to be the confidante of a complex and once powerful man, as with the Camp David talks, where we feel the tension of whether Begin and Sadat will ever sign a peace treaty.  She also shows the delight of a small-town girl in the luxury and history of the White House.  But I'm not sure that the book holds together as well as it could, and there are some glaring typos (like "side strips").

Both Rosalynn's father and her husband discouraged her from crying, so when she cries at the realization that Jimmy is going to lose in 1980, it's memorable.  There is a sense, despite Rosalynn's honesty, of her often having to hide her negative feelings, including anger.  Yet overall, she seems to have been one of the most "real" First Ladies we've had.  Unlike the Cary Grant book, where I like the book better than the subject, I think I like Mrs. Carter more than I like this book, which is probably how I felt three decades ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment