This past week has provided some enlightening reading about two women who I grew up “hearing” about but never read anything about. The first was a New Yorker article about Yoko Ono that brought her to life and empathy in a way that made me realize that maybe her relationship with John Lennon cost her more than Beatles’ fans could imagine (no pun intended although I’m glad it’s coming to light that she contributed much of the lyric to “Imagine”).
From an NPR interview with John Lennon:
LENNON: Yeah, but if it had been Bowie, I would have put Lennon-Bowie. See, if you had been male. You know, when we wrote “Fame” together. But when we did it, I just put Lennon because, you know, she’s just the wife. And you don’t put her name on, right?NPR
But Yoko had been more than a wife. She had been an artist in her own right, a fact that sometimes falls aside in the face of Lennon’s stardom.
A similar relationship is depicted in Louis Bayard’s touching novel, Jackie & Me, which was published last week and which we are celebrating my leg of the blog tour today. And while at first glance you probably can’t imagine any similarities between posh Jackie Bouvier and eccentric Yoko Ono, a second glance reveals what happens to women who fall in love with powerful, egocentric men.
Jackie & Me
June 14, 2022
Blurb: In 1951, former debutante Jacqueline Bouvier is hard at work as the Inquiring Camera Girl for a Washington newspaper. Her mission in life is “not to be a housewife,” but when she meets the charismatic congressman Jack Kennedy at a Georgetown party, her resolution begins to falter. Soon the two are flirting over secret phone calls, cocktails, and dinner dates, and as Jackie is drawn deeper into the Kennedy orbit, and as Jack himself grows increasingly elusive and absent, she begins to question what life at his side would mean. For answers, she turns to his best friend and confidant, Lem Billings, a closeted gay man who has made the Kennedy family his own, and who has been instructed by them to seal the deal with Jack’s new girl. But as he gets to know her, a deep and touching friendship emerges, leaving him with painfully divided alliances and a troubling dilemma: Is this the marriage she deserves?
Narrated by an older Lem as he looks back at his own role in a complicated alliance, this is a courtship story full of longing and of suspense, of what-ifs and possible wrong turns. It is a surprising look at Jackie before she was that Jackie. And in best-selling author Louis Bayard’s witty and deeply empathetic telling, Jackie & Me is a page-turning story of friendship, love, sacrifice, and betrayal— and a fresh take on two iconic American figures.
It’s that first glance. That instant of electric attraction. Jack Kennedy, a congressman from Massachusetts, sees Jackie Bouvier, a sleek, soft-spoken brunette who is very unlike the women he typically pursues. In the back of her mind, Jackie heeds the advice of her mother, which she rarely does, but in this case it seems to work and she captivates the congressman. But what follows is not a typical boy meets girl situation. Rather, Jack calls upon his friend, Lem Billings, to be his go-between, to keep Jackie on the hook while Jack goes about his business. And, it’s this extraordinary friendship between Jackie and Lem that is the substance of Jackie & Me.
Like so many relationships in which attraction is the main feature, it becomes obvious that Jackie has more in common with Lem than she does with Jack. They go to galleries and fashion shows and discuss ideas. They almost have the perfect relationship except that Jackie is beyond attracted to Lem’s best friend and Jackie probably isn’t Lem’s type anyway. Or is she?
Louis Bayard tells the story with humor and ease and sometimes with a sad touch that shows Lem in his later years somewhat forgotten by the people he was close friends with and sometimes held in contempt by them as well. It’s also a fragile position to be between two people who are in a relationship, especially when you care about them both and know that one will ultimately betray the other.
Despite the fact that I’ve heard the Kennedy name for my entire lifetime, I really have never delved into their world but found myself doing so as I read. It’s a complicated world with a little megalomania thrown in and a lot of misogyny and while it’s a product of its time that doesn’t really make it any better. I ultimately came away feeling bad for Jackie who while intelligent and sharp and could almost be imagined capable of swimming with sharks was still young and deserving of a better relationship than the one she received. Bayard does a magnificent job of portraying this side of Jackie, her sense of humor and drive and often her huge vulnerability that she manages to keep almost hidden.
Lem is also an interesting character. He seems to bring out the better side of Jack, but it’s not permanent and shows that Jack’s sense of loyalty may be to himself alone. On the other hand, Lem’s loyalties have him questioning his own sense of right and who ultimately he should be loyal to.
Jackie & Me is a captivating imagining of a budding relationship between two charismatic individuals as well as a beautiful one developing between two friends that never hesitates to show how the shiniest object can tarnish with time. An excellent read.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.