The Challenge of Capturing the Obamas

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David Remnick reviews Jodi Kantor's new book The Obamas:

A book about the Obamas' marriage, though, starts out with a problem. As the author of "Anna Karenina" could have attested, an unhappy marriage can be unhappy--and interesting--in countless ways. By contrast, when Ian McEwan tried to portray a happy marriage in his novel "Saturday"--"What a stroke of luck, that the woman he loves is also his wife"--not a few critics found it unbelievable or smug. "Apparently in the purlieus of north London, or at least in McEwan's fantasy version of them, no one suffers from morning breath, and women long-married wake up every time primed for sex," John Banville groused. Michelle Obama, in fact, has described her husband as "snorey and stinky" of a morning. 

More seriously, both Obamas concede that their marriage has known its tensions and discord, particularly a decade ago, when Barack was working as an obscure state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, while Michelle tried to juggle career, children, and household back in Hyde Park. She was not pleased and made sure he knew it, loading him up with shopping lists and resentment. The Obamas still have differences: he believes in political process; she is wary of politics; he is purpose-driven, ambitious; she wants everyone home for dinner at six-thirty, no excuses; she loses her patience; he apologizes. Yet the union, as far as we know, is solid and loving; it works. Their differences seem largely complementary. As the Italian-American philosopher Rocky Balboa said of his beloved Adrian Pennino, "She's got gaps. I got gaps. Together we fill gaps."

Haven't seen the book, but getting pat the "ordinariness" of the Obamas (accomplished though they are) is a challenge from the outset. It's good for people to be grounded. It's a bit trickier for those want to write about them.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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