"Jackie and Me" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
“Jackie and Me” is a historical fiction novel that takes place in 1951 around the time that John (Jack) Kennedy met Jacqueline Bovier. It is told from the viewpoint of Jack’s high school best friend, Lem Billings, who remained close to the couple until Kennedy’s death. The story begins with Jack and Jackie’s first meeting and continues until their wedding day.
Joe Kennedy, Sr., has decided that Jack needs a wife to further his political career, which is in a trajectory mode. Joe is impressed with Jackie’s wit and sophistication, and her ancestry is at least okay. The rest of the family give reluctant approval.
Jack concedes to making Jackie his wife since he does everything his father tells him to do. Congressman Kennedy is running for Senate, and he has little time to court Jackie. He enlists Lem to take on the task of keeping Jackie busy to prevent her from dating others. Jackie writes a popular column for the “New York Herald-Times” so she is busy during the week. Weekends are the issue.
Lem entertains Jackie with lunches, amusement park outings, museum visits, concerts, movies and conversations about Jack almost every Sunday from the time Jack (or his father) has decided that they will marry. Lem covers up Jack’s assignations with women. When Jack asks Lem to warn Jackie that he can’t or won’t be faithful, Lem lies and tells her that Jack won’t be like his father.
Other than what Lem tells her, Jackie knows very little about Jack. She learns he has Addison’s Disease just before their marriage. She had been given the public line that he suffered from the after-effects of malaria which he supposedly caught as a war hero.
Jackie seems to tolerate Jack’s obvious infidelity early on in their relationship because she, like many women, is smitten with Jack Kennedy. That fact that he picked her keeps her from confronting obvious transgressions.
Jack is indifferent and Jackie is too shy to speak up about her future father-in-law’s interference. Joe Kennedy Sr. picks her engagement ring, the place of the wedding, the guests and even her wedding dress. He pays for everything. Jackie’s father and stepfather have declining fortunes. Joe sees this as a tool to keep Jackie beholden to the Kennedy family.
Countless books exist about the Kennedy family, of course, but this one offers a new take from the viewpoint of Lem Billings who loved Jackie and Jack. Lem was a closeted gay man, but he offered to help Jackie escape the Kennedy’s tentacles by proposing to her. It was meant as a joke, but Lem would have followed through at any point.
Lem and Jackie developed a close friendship which lasted throughout Jackie’s time at the White House. Lem had his own bedroom at the White House during the Kennedy years.
Following Jack’s death, Jackie purposely removed herself from close contact with Jack’s friends, including Lem. Jack’s friends were hurtful reminders of her time with Jack.
“Jackie and Me” is an interesting book of fact and fiction. I highly recommend it as a fresh take of the Kennedy family just as Jack Kennedy is in the early years of his political career and Jackie is a young woman in love.