By Eleanor Black
In Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Rodham (Doubleday, $37) Bill Clinton is a walking oil slick – ostentatiously attentive and self-consciously charming, desperate to be loved by everyone he meets. The sort of man who makes you feel just a bit queasy. And yet he is easily the most interesting character in this reimagining of Hillary Clinton's life. The novel asks, what would have happened if she had fallen in love with Bill but refused to marry him? Apparently, he would have become a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and she would have become a law lecturer and US senator - but a romantically unfulfilled one.
It is bold to reimagine the life of a very famous woman who is not only still living but has written her own story more than once and to present a living former US President as an unrepentant sexual predator. Admirably so. That boldness pays off in plot development and rich subtext but, unfortunately, the fictional Hillary Rodham is still not someone you imagine wanting to spend a lot of time with – and the imaginary Bill Clinton is even creepier than the real one.
Worse than Sittenfeld's fictional Clinton is the portrait of Prince Andrew that has emerged from the criminal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's abuse of young women. Prince Andrew, Epstein and the Palace by Nigel Cawthorne (Gibson Square, $60 hardback) is a collation of media reports that have tumbled forth since Andrew was first linked with Epstein, the New York financier accused of sex trafficking.
Despite the lurid nature of Andrew's alleged misdeeds (Virginia Giuffre says she was forced to have sex with him, aged 17, when Epstein trafficked her to London) the book is kind of dull and even petty. You learn that in the nursery Prince Andrew was known as Baby Grumpling and at boarding school as The Sniggerer. His manners are, reportedly, "just awful". There is a chapter called "Girls, Girls, Girls".
Unfortunately, a lot of teenaged boys still identify masculinity with aggression, sexual conquest and dominance. In Boys and Sex (Souvenir Press, $33), the journalist Peggy Orenstein talks to hundreds of them about consent, hook-ups, porn and relationships, and the picture is horrifying, especially if you are raising young men yourself.
"[Adults] need to challenge the unwritten rules of male socialisation, the forging of masculinity through unexamined entitlement, emotional suppression and hostility towards the feminine," Orenstein writes. This involves positive role modelling and a lot of – frankly, awkward – conversations; the alternative is too sad to contemplate.