Jackie After Jack: Portrait Of The Lady

Peter Kurth reviews 'Jackie After Jack' by Christopher Andersen

By Peter Kurth

Published March 12, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

If the evidence in Christopher Andersen's "Jackie After Jack" is anything to go by, President Clinton won't have anything to worry about in the future if he has allowed himself a couple of thousand blow jobs in the White House. On the contrary, once the Clintons get back to Arkansas, Bill and Hillary can both look forward to an endless stream -- "spurt" is a better word -- of sticky revelations about their sexual habits. Whatever these turn out to be in the Clintons' case, they'll look like rank amateurs next to the Kennedys and their wives, whose glorious dominion over America's dirty mind continues unabated and only serves to heighten their popularity. Seymour Hersh and his ilk be damned: This country loves sex, and it loves rascals -- the Cuban Missile Crisis can take care of itself.

"Jackie After Jack," of course, is the second volume of Andersen's overheated chronicle of the marriage of the 35th president and the lovely, elegant, whispering Jacqueline Bouvier, she of the pink suit, the unflagging dignity, the flawless French and the multiple charge accounts. There was no need for either book, of course. The world would have kept on turning without knowing that America's grieving first widow, during those terrible Four Days in November, was chain-smoking Salems and shot up on speed. She was also entertaining everyone in earshot with the grisly details of Kennedy's death, compelled -- as was certainly her right -- to describe the way his head blew off in her lap, how she tried to stick the skull back on in the hope it would keep him alive, how Texas Gov. John Connally was "squealing like a stuck pig," etc. (For the record, she did not remember trying to crawl out of the car.)

"As the wife of two powerful men, [Jackie] had been drawn mothlike to the flame of celebrity as a way of validating her own existence," Andersen remarks by way of analysis. He writes as well or as badly as anyone else who thinks Mrs. Kennedy Onassis' story is worthy of endless scrutiny. In purely biographical terms, Andersen's book suffers from a lack of historical context and from his refusal, or inability, to come down on one side or the other in assessing Jackie's character. Just when you think he's concluded that she was a shallow, vindictive slut with a passion for handbags and fancy slacks, he turns around and tells you how amazing it was that she actually worked hard at her job as an editor at Viking and Doubleday, just like anyone else! There are, thankfully, occasional flashes of wit, as when Andersen quotes Christina Onassis on her stepmother: "I don't dislike her, you know. I hate her."

The most interesting thing about "Jackie After Jack" is how much its heroine actually talked about herself. For a woman with a reputation for mystery and aloofness, she was a regular Chatty Cathy, endlessly devoted to her own legend and determined to control it. More power to her, if you ask me, with books like this in her wake.

Peter Kurth

Peter Kurth, a regular contributor to Salon Books, is the author of "Isadora: A Sensational Life." He lives in Burlington, Vt.

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