Jackie & Me: Book summary and reviews of Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard

Jackie & Me

by Louis Bayard

Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard X
Jackie & Me by Louis Bayard
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About this book

Book Summary

Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

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.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Although the bulk of Jackie & Me takes place in the early 1950s, the story is told by Lem Billings from the vantage point of 1981. What does this perspective do for our understanding of the book and its characters?
  2. What common ground do Jackie and Lem find during their initial meeting? Does the nature of their relationship change as they become better acquainted? What do they get from each other that they don't get from anyone else?
  3. Lem uses quantum physics as an analogy for life's potentialities, suggesting that "embedded in every human life, there are traffic crossings, where ... we would see the contingencies of our fate coming together and commingling, before charging off in opposed directions." What do you think of this model...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Absolutely irresistible."—People (Best Books of Summer 2022)

"A poignant, late-summer-afternoon kind of novel ... A novel, like Jackie herself, with charm to spare."—The Washington Post

"Bayard produces an 'alternative history' evincing these very public figures' inner lives while considering how different choices might have led to different outcomes...As for Jackie, she's pure delight—beautiful of course, naïve but self-aware, her keen intellect showing small glints of the tough resilience she'll need later on when she's become an icon. Romance with bite: the perfect escapism for today's anxious times."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[Bayard] brings a poignant empathy, persuasive intimacy, and nuanced imagination to his interpretation of a relatively unexamined chapter in Kennedy lore."—Booklist (starred review)

"Bayard is a master of historical fiction; this exquisite book is no exception."—Library Journal (starred review)

"[A]n enchanting narrative...Bayard suffuses the spritzy story with wit, charm, and depth. The result is tailor-made for fans of Camelot drama."—Publishers Weekly

"I absolutely adore this novel! It's a testament to Louis Bayard's remarkable gifts as storyteller how suspenseful it is, given that we already know this story...or do we? Full of Bayard's trademark charm and wit, with prose that sings and a perfect voice, Jackie & Me delighted me from beginning to end."—Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

"We all dream of novels as good as this one: Fascinating, funny, gorgeous, heartbreaking. In my next life I want to be Louis Bayard."—Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank With Me and Better Luck Next Time

This information about Jackie & Me was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Mel F. (Auburn, MA)

Interesting read on Jackie Bouvier (pre Kennedy)
A well written and engaging book about the relationship between Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings (the best friend of John F. Kennedy) and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, before she became the iconic First Lady. Bayard writes in the voice of Lem who developed a friendship with Jack Kennedy when they were students at Choate. They bonded by their mutual dislike of Choate's rules and headmasters. Bayard portrays Jackie Bouvier (before she became a Kennedy) as "The scrapping career girl with homemade clothes and ladders in her stockings…who doubted herself at every move." Jack Kennedy initiated the friendship between Lem and Jackie since he was so focused on his political career that he didn't have the time for a proper courtship. Bayard uses a combination of fact and fiction to describe the friendship between Lem and Jackie which appeared as a "vetting process" to determine Jackie's suitability as a politician's wife and addition to the Kennedy clan. Lem became a confidante to this "other" Jackie- a young woman who was more naïve and vulnerable to the handsome, charismatic then Congressman from Massachusetts and his high-profile powerful family. This read is an interesting insight into one of the most famous of relationships that garnered interest by both the public and the press.

Lloyde N. (Olympia, WA)

Reading for Pleasure
One of my favorite sentences in the book starts in Chapter 2, "One of the things about being retired is you either give up on reading all those books you said you would or you finally get around to them". This is a book that because of retirement I had the opportunity to read and fully savor. There are many places in the book where the reader will learn new facts about Jackie Bouvier and her relationship with Lem Billings, and the doors he opened for her. The cast of characters is superb and Bayard has caught the subtle nuances of mid-century life. I recommend this book, and enjoyed it.

Jennifer B. (Oviedo, FL)

Jackie!
Oh my! This has been a deliciously fun book! Louis Bayard has written a story that readers will consume eagerly. Although we know going in this a novel, it's tempting to conjecture what parts are true or based in truth. The story of Jackie before her marriage to JFK was not familiar to me. Their friendship with Lem Billings was also news to me, but I enjoyed every antidote about the triad. Louis Bayard has done well with his foray into romantic storytelling. He remains one of my favorite writers.

Elizabeth V. (Bellbrook, OH)

Fictionalized History at its Best
I loved Louis Bayard's fictional versions of Jack and Jackie as seen by Lem Billings, Jack's "wing man" during their courtship. The wistful tone of Lem's memories was poignant and endearing. Bayard's depiction of Jack and Jackie's relationship rang very true to me and gave a sense of depth and humanity to their iconic images. Highly recommend.

Shelley C. (Eastport, NY)

Before Camelot
What I remember of Jack and Jackie Kennedy are the Camelot years. It was a time when they were the occupants of the White House and they were the glamorous, golden couple that everyone envied. Men wanted to be Jack. Women wanted to be with Jack (and teen-aged me was one of them) and at the same time wanted to be and/or look like Jackie. Later on, we would learn of the escapades of our hero; all the women coming through the back door. And we would wonder why? After all, he had Jackie!

"Jackie and Me", opens the door to the one sided romance. One can understand why she was attracted to him and he to her. But why did it go so far? Why did they ever marry? She knew who he was before they tied the knot. And as for him, did he ever really love her? Was he capable of loving anybody?

Mr. Bayard's book was terrific; allowing us a glimpse into the lives of two historical figures who barely know one another, and that the world glorified even though they didn't know them either. His writing kept me glued to the pages, wanting more and more of the story. I loved this book and truly recommend it. It was a delicious read.

Diana C. (Boca Raton, FL)

Shakespearean in its scope
I knew I would adore this book. This author never fails to take the reader to places they were not expecting. This is at once a love story and a fable, with the moral being the all too familiar love lost amid a backdrop of poignant and sometimes painful memories. It features the very real relationships between John F. Kennedy and one of his dearest friends, Lem Billings and Lem's initially reluctant, and finally devoted, relationship with Jacqueline Bouvier. These are the very early years in John and Jackie's introduction and courtship, that ultimately result in their marriage. There was a profound undercurrent of sadness in this book, not just for the obvious tragedy that befell John F. Kennedy but for the all too familiar life experience of once having loved someone, having held them close and then, inexplicably, saw them slip through our fingers.

...10 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Louis Bayard Author Biography

Louis Bayard is the critically acclaimed bestselling author of nine historical novels, including Courting Mr. Lincoln and The Pale Blue Eye, which is being adapted into a Netflix film starring Christian Bale. Bayard's articles, reviews, and recaps have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Salon, and the Paris Review.

Author Interview
Link to Louis Bayard's Website

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