Jackie & Me
The eventful life of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has inspired many fictional retellings; Bayard has made the curious choice to imagine the courtship of Jack and Jackie through the eyes of Jack’s close friend, Lem Billings. This friendship was real and carefully detailed in the biography Jack and Lem (which Bayard credits), but the reader becomes mystified as to whose thoughts we’re really observing. When we get to experience Jackie’s inner doubts and desires (as well as a couple of graphic sex scenes with Jack), are we meant to believe this is the jaded debutante thinking, or her devoted gay friend’s imagining of her thoughts? The whole experience is disorienting and ultimately a little creepy, especially when you consider that Jackie has numerous living relatives who will hardly enjoy Bayard’s voyeurism.
That said, there is much that’s fascinating in Bayard’s depiction of a woman of brilliance and privilege facing an adult world in which her talents are expected to be submerged into support of a philandering political genius. Jackie and Lem’s banter is crisp and witty, reflecting a sharply satirical take on the rigid conformity of 1950s American upper-middle-class culture. Bayard has also chosen to have an aging Lem in the 1980s narrate his memories of thirty years previous, and the fog of his nostalgia also keeps us from feeling we really understand the subject of the novel as she really might have been. Jackie is still waiting for the novelist who can bring her genius to life.