Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard – A Take on Jackie before Kennedy


In his new novel Jackie & Me (Algonquin, 2022), Louis Bayard chronicles the story of Jackie O earlier than she turned Jackie the parable. That is the story of Jackie earlier than she even turned a Kennedy, informed from the attitude of Lem Billings, John F. Kennedy’s schoolmate, life-long pal and confidante.

When Congressman Kennedy began courting debutante-turned-reporter Jacqueline Bouvier, he was additionally embroiled in a aggressive race for the US Senate. Due to this fact, he enlisted closeted homosexual greatest pal Lem as a go-between within the courtship. Through the course of, Lem cast his personal friendship with Jackie.

“I assumed, ‘What a fantastic cat-bird seat he would’ve had, and wouldn’t he make a fantastic narrator?’” Bayard remembers. “The result’s this e-book, which seems to be at Jackie earlier than she was Jackie — the Jackie that all of us suppose we all know. Nevertheless it additionally seems to be at her via this specific prism of one other outsider, Lem himself. He a lot needed to be one of many Kennedys, however remained a cherished visitor.”

Based on Bayard, the connection became “a form of attention-grabbing love triangle between these three fascinating folks.”

Bayard did loads of analysis for the e-book, together with studying all of the columns Jackie wrote for the Washington Instances-Herald within the early Nineteen Fifties. The articles supplied an perception into this well-bred (and well-read!) lady who overcame her shyness to be able to ask questions of full strangers on the streets of Washington D.C. She took their footage and repeated the entire course of six days per week. This definitely helped with the analysis. Bayard factors out that “one of many upsides of catching a historic determine at a younger age—this was true of Lincoln and Mary Todd, too—is that it shrinks the [research] rabbit gap a bit.” At this level in Jackie’s life, she had her first actual job, which constructed her as a lady together with her personal profession.

Jackie’s indomitable mom, Janet Lee Auchincloss, expressed her misgivings about her daughter’s resolution to seek out employment and frightened about marriage prospects. Regardless of this, when Kennedy proposed to her daughter, Auchincloss initially opposed the wedding. Based on Bayard, “she had that basic aristocratic disdain for arrivistes (although she was basically one herself) and the Kennedys, with their new cash and their brash personalities, would have represented all the pieces she despised.” Publicly Auchincloss needed to associate with the match as that’s what appearances dictated.

writer photograph by Anna Carson

Via Lem’s eyes, Bayard provides a window into Jackie’s struggles and doubts as she is being groomed to be the proper political spouse, whilst she senses her future husband may not be the devoted man she hoped to seek out. The story covers long-ago occasions via reminiscence, revisiting the alternatives each Jackie and Lem may have made. Bayard explains, “As a novelist, I give myself the liberty to think about alternate paths. You may even say that’s one of many themes of the e-book, the lives we didn’t select.”

After JFK’s demise, Jackie and Lem weren’t as shut. Bayard’s analysis means that Jackie distanced herself from the Hyannisport scene all through the Seventies, maybe to defend her youngsters from the Kennedy household dynamic. As Lem was part of that dynamic, the gap between him and Jackie got here with the territory. Nonetheless, she attended Lem’s funeral, which exhibits that he did matter to her indirectly.

Each Jack and Jackie have been e-book lovers and the language within the e-book is beautiful. Bayard’s efforts to depict that is obvious. He says “you had these two extremely literate souls, and in the event you’re going write about them, you hope it is going to be one thing they might have loved studying—that’s, if it weren’t about them.”

It’s extremely doubtless that they each would get pleasure from studying this vivid and unique story.


In regards to the contributor: Helen Piper is the writer of a novella loosely primarily based on Joan Crawford’s life, and he or she is at the moment engaged on her first novel. Beforehand she labored as a lawyer.