Book explores pain, grace

Blue Bicycle Books on King Street will be among the many booksellers offering copies of Jenny Sanford's book today.

Jenny Sanford sat in stunned silence as she watched her husband on television telling the world how he'd cheated on her and deserted the governor's office to cry with his lover in Argentina.

When the cameras finally shut off, Jenny Sanford's cell phone rang.

"How'd I do?" Gov. Mark Sanford asked.

"'Are you kidding me?' " she recalls telling him in her new memoir. " 'You cried for her and said little of me or the boys.' I guess he'd forgotten I was not the one to praise his performance."

The tale is just one indignant anecdote in "Staying True," Jenny Sanford's tell-all ode to her 20-year marriage that hits bookshelves today. Political observers are predicting brisk sales and a new round of dents to the governor's already battered reputation.

The memoir's release follows months of near-seclusion and carefully worded statements from South Carolina's soon-to-be-ex-first lady in the wake of her husband's infamous Argentinian love affair. The 214-page tome offers a host of insider accounts, perplexing tales and salacious nuggets about their life and the untimely implosion of his once-promising political career.

Marjory Wentworth, a family friend who was appointed South Carolina's poet laureate by the governor in 2003, said Jenny Sanford wrote the book to put the story in context from her point of view. She hopes people see past the titillating items and explore her friend's deeper story of strength, poise and dignity, she said.

"It's just really a book to remind you how to take care of your soul," Wentworth said. "I'm sure people want to read the book to get the dirt, but there is a lot to be learned from how she gets her own strength and balance, and I hope people pay attention to that."

Whatever the takeaway, some book sellers see potential gold.

Jen McCurry, manager of Waldenbooks at Charleston Place, said her store has ordered hundreds of copies of "Staying True," which is published by Ballantine Books.

"There has been a lot of interest, and I would say it's going to be a big release," she said. "I don't think it will be just local. I've had friends all across the country biting at the bit to get ahold of it."

Others said it is hard to predict the shelf-life of a book carried largely by a scandal that has already run its course. Politicians, pundits and the media have picked at the bones of the affair for many months, leaving some in the Palmetto State with a good case of Sanford fatigue.

It would be hard to find too many people unaware of the events that transpired after the governor disappeared last summer, reportedly to hike the Appalachian Trail. Sanford later revealed he had been on a tryst with his mistress and "soul mate," Maria Belen Chapur.

That admission led to calls for his resignation, a failed try at impeachment and, finally, a legislative censure that spared his job as a lame duck in disgrace. Jenny Sanford filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery in December. A final hearing is set for this month.

Despite all the publicity, Jenny Sanford apparently squirreled away enough revealing anecdotes to re-ignite people's interest in the affair.

Excerpts from "Staying True" have made national headlines, and a New York Times review described "Staying True" as a "surprisingly energetic exemplar of the 'little did I know' genre." Jenny Sanford is scheduled to share more highlights tonight in a pre-taped interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, who named South Carolina's first lady one of her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2009."

In the ABC interview, Jenny Sanford recalls how she made the "leap of faith" to marry the future governor, revealing how Mark Sanford refused to promise to be faithful, insisting that the clause be removed from their wedding vows.

She also discussed her husband's frugality, recounting how he gave her less-than-romantic gifts for her birthday.

"He drew me a picture of a half a bike, and then for the next birthday or Christmas I got the picture of the other half a bike, and then he delivered the $25 used bike," she told Walters.

In her memoir, the first lady shares many other details of the couple's private life, such as how her husband became bored and bailed out of Lamaze classes after just one session when she was pregnant with their first son.

"I've spent many long nights helping cows give birth and I know what to do when the baby gets stuck," the book quotes him as saying.

She later reveals that the governor sought her advice about his extramarital romance and how to deal with the media after she discovered his dalliances with Chapur. She recounts how he wondered aloud whether he should follow his heart to Argentina or if he would live a life of regret if he didn't take that chance. "Clearly those are thoughts I wish he had kept to himself," she wrote.

Ben Fox, Mark Sanford's communication director, said the governor's office had no comment on the book or its revelations.

Longtime South Carolina political observer and author Jack Bass said he expects "tremendous interest" in the memoir, which is likely to create "more unease" about the governor. "She has come out as the heroine of this story," he said.

Wentworth said her friend planned to celebrate the book's release at a private party with friends and family Thursday night in the Charleston area. She will soon embark on a national media junket, with tentative stops at "Good Morning America," "The Daily Show" and other venues, Wentworth said.

Jenny Sanford's Web site lists only three book signings, starting with a Feb. 12 date in Columbia. The following day she will sign books at Barnes and Noble in Mount Pleasant. Then it's off to a Feb. 16 event in her hometown of Winnetka, Ill.

Larry Morey, manager of the Barnes and Noble store in the Mount Pleasant Towne Centre, said he's not sure what to expect, given that Sanford is a first-time author with no track history of book signings. Just in case, though, he's been advised to set up a "media pit" to accommodate the trailing Fourth Estate.

One person who will skip the event is Drucilla Barker, director of women and gender studies at the University of South Carolina. She doesn't plan to read the memoir and views Sanford's story as a distraction from the state's real problems with poverty, unemployment and other issues. Many women face infidelity and husbands who let them down, but few have the resources or affluence that Jenny Sanford has to recover from it, she said.

"I think it's good that she left him, but I don't think Jenny Sanford is a role model to women other than maybe upper middle-class, privileged women who have access to income and wealth," she said. "I just think there are far more important things to talk about."