So she moved to Houston and then Austin. She worked in a brokerage house, taught school in the inner city, and then got a master's degree in library science. It wasn't until after all that restlessness that mutual friends introduced her to George W. Bush.

And even then, even though she was 31 and "the old maid of Midland," Laura Bush makes it clear she wasn't desperate.

"Bar Bush loves to tell the story that George spent exactly one day in Kennebunkport that summer," she writes. "When he called my apartment, she says that 'some guy answered, and he raced for a plane and flew right back down.'"

Note that sly "she says": Sweet Laura Bush wouldn't brag about two-timing the future president, but she's happy to let his mother do it for her.

After this point, however, Laura Bush's book gets a lot less interesting. She marries George, they have the twins, and he becomes governor of Texas and then president. And somehow, the woman who refused typing lessons suddenly becomes something of a Stepford wife: a stay-at-home mom and a loyal helpmeet to her high-achieving husband.

It would be interesting had she delved into the transition. But she doesn't. Their courtship gets one lousy page; their wedding, another. There is a stoic quality about Laura Bush throughout her book, but it really kicks in at the point she trades one life for another.

In the book, she openly regrets her loss of anonymity. But I kept wondering whether she regretted getting married. She never says.

Norris Church Mailer clearly didn't regret it — a point she tackles time and again. Just as Laura Bush's life becomes a whole lot less interesting once she meets her famous husband, Norris Mailer's becomes a lot more so. As Mrs. Norman Mailer, she finds her true calling. Clearly, this was not a woman who was meant to stay in Arkansas.

That's not to say it was easy. Perhaps the biggest revelation in Norris' book is just how difficult the whole thing was: There were five ex-wives to deal with, the seven children Norman sired before meeting her, and all the resulting alimony and child support.

And Norman Mailer, God bless him, was ridiculously difficult even beyond his tangled marital history.

At one point in the book, he invites an ex-girlfriend to dinner and expects Norris to cook for her. The woman is, not surprisingly, a complete bitch to Norris.

Norris writes, "He did things like that purely for the novelistic curiosity of seeing what would happen, I think. Although I would prefer to believe that he was a curious novelist than to think he was just an insensitive clod." Indeed.

Later in the book, her heart nearly breaks when she learns he's been cheating on her — with a veritable bevy of women. "How could I have been so ignorant all this time?" Norris cries.

"It's not hard to fool someone who loves and trusts you," her husband replies. The cruelty is staggering.

And yet she continues to love him. At one point, after she confronts him about the cheating, she plans to leave, and she tells him so.

"Norman began to talk then," she recalls. "He used all his talents and abilities and charm, which were considerable. Somehow — I still don't quite know how — before dinner was over, he made me believe that he did love me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He was ready to give it all up, all the other women, everything.

"Maybe I was still naive, maybe it was just that neither one of us wanted to have to go out and find another apartment," she continues. "No matter; we went home intending to stay together and somehow make it work." And they did.

There's a similar resilience that runs through Laura Bush's story. No, George never cheats on her, or at least she never writes about him doing so. But she endures a serious tragedy — one made all the worse by her culpability in it.

Speeding along a rural road late at night, she runs a stop sign. Her classmate, a good friend who just happened to be in another car on the road that night, is killed.

Thrown from her car by the impact of the crash, the teenaged Laura sees the carnage. She has an inkling that her friend Mike Douglas was in the other car — and that Mike is now dead. But she refuses to believe that it's actually him.

In the hospital that night, she pleads with God. "I couldn't stop asking God, over and over in my head, to keep this other person alive."

It was, of course, too late.

"I lost my faith that November," she writes, "lost it for many, many years. It was the first time that I prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard . . . The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas's sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain."

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Sarah—as usual, your writing is impeccable. You were able to take the world’s most “bo-ring” book and turn it into a “bo-ring” book report. That’s okay, though, it was refreshing to see a print copy of New Times that wasn’t based on the old, tired recipe of “Hate Arizona, Hate Joe Arapio, Embrace Debauchery”.

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