The First Lady asks an unknown journalist to write her biography. Why?

OUR AMERICAN FRIEND By Anna Pitoniak From its first sentence, Anna Pitoniak’s third novel, “Our American Friend,” wastes no time in hit...


OUR AMERICAN FRIEND
By Anna Pitoniak

From its first sentence, Anna Pitoniak’s third novel, “Our American Friend,” wastes no time in hitting a dramatic note. It begins with “The Mediterranean was a deep winter blue, cold and dimpled like hammered steel, the morning I began to wonder if I had made the worst mistake of my life.”

Pitoniak takes us into the world of Sofie Morse, a White House correspondent in her thirties who quits her job after a Trump-like president named Henry Caine is elected to a second term. “Despite his constant sabotage, both of himself and of the country, Caine had enjoyed an unbroken streak of luck,” Pitoniak writes. “Corruption investigations have resulted in a collective shrug; the indictment proceedings were unsuccessful; and the economy remained white hot, which was apparently all that mattered.

After a week of unemployment, Sofie learns that Lara Caine, Russian model turned inscrutable first lady, would like a meeting. Sofie, who “has only ever seen a small part of the White House” covering it, is intrigued and confused: “I worked in the White House the same way as an average-sized apartment on the Second Avenue in Manhattan offers a view of the river. Technically true, but fundamentally misleading.

However, after a few banalities, Lara entrusts Sofie with writing her official biography. “I would like my story to be told objectively,” she says. “It is the only way.” And so, the couple is thrust into a loosely established working relationship. No contract. No delay. No money exchanged. The only problem? Sofie has to start over from the beginning – the very beginning.

Why would a first lady hire a green reporter to tell her life story when her divisive husband is still in the job? Lara Caine has her reasons.

Pitoniak tells Lara’s story in elegant, easy-to-swallow chapters. Lara (born Larissa Fyodorovna Orlova) grew up in Paris, the devoted daughter of a KGB agent during the Gorbachev years. (The family was reassigned from Moscow when Lara was a young girl.) Eventually, Lara falls in love with a fiery teenager who works for a dissident literary magazine called The Spark. Their own spark, though tenderly wrought—I can’t help but imagine Timothée Chalamet as the idealistic Sasha—serves as the catalyst for the plan Lara eventually undertakes.

You’re probably sensing where this or all of this is going. Pitoniak weaves timelines to create a portrait of a woman torn between two countries, two belief systems, two selves. And she gallops confidently through the turbulent Russian-American timeline: Jimmy Carter’s letter to Andrei Sakharov, glasnost, Putin. She skillfully nests each Russian doll into the next, keeping each chapter of the story intact as she builds a new one around her. The result is a sleek, well-paced “thriller” — I put it in quotes, because even the most tense moments gently put you down — that doesn’t struggle much with its own provocative premise.

Pitoniak shows what a second Trump presidency could look like. There are angry protesters around the White House. Sofie’s sister sees a child go hungry because the Caine administration “changed the rules” regarding SNAP benefits. At one point, Sofie challenges Lara in her head. “You sleep next to this man every night,” she thinks, then: “Why do you tolerate this? People are suffering. You could do something about it. But the two women never get along.

“Our American Friend” could be a tongue-in-cheek satire or a cautionary tale. It could be read as an examination of unspoken treaties between politicians and their profilers. He might even comment on how first ladies (especially those born outside the United States, of whom Melania Trump was only the second in history) are treated by the press. But at the end of the day, it’s more like “Emily in Paris” meets “Scandal” – fantastic fun if a bit frivolous.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The First Lady asks an unknown journalist to write her biography. Why?
The First Lady asks an unknown journalist to write her biography. Why?
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