The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Jackie & Me
by Louis Bayard
14 Jun 2022
352 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Critics:
Readers:
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lauri Z. (Washington, DC)

Felt like Historical fiction- compelling read
I thoroughly enjoyed this book yet I'm still not sure how to distinguish historical fact from the author's rendition of "alternative history" in this book. That is not a criticism, in fact my curiosity was peaked such that the book became somewhat a page turner. The relationship between Jackie and Lem was heartwarming. I can imagine having a confidante such as Lem to keep a person well balanced. I was surprised to learn in the acknowledgments that there was in fact a "real" Lem. This book peeled back the curtains on "Camelot" and I do think I found the narrative of the Kennedy family political and personal aspirations intriguing.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sharon J. (Raleigh, NC)

Jackie and Me
While the story, Jackie and Me, presents itself as a fictional work, I kept wanting to know more about the real lives of JFK, Jackie and Lem. The author did a fantastic job developing their individual worlds, their relationships and the planned out paths they took. It made me appreciate the very lonely life Jackie had at that time and the very special friendship she and Lem had. I would recommend Jackie and Me and look forward to reading more works by Louis Bayard.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Judith C. (Lake Oswego, OR)

Jackie and Me
As a reader of all the biographies on Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis I could find, I was a little skeptical about reading an historical depiction of her friendship with Lem Billings. I needn't have worried. I couldn't put the book down and raced through it. And then was sorry that I had finished it so quickly.

The book is well written and I'm looking forward to reading more of Louis Bayard's books.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by 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.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Martha G. (Columbia, MO)

Jackie and Me
I was in high school/college during the "Kennedy years." They were almost like royalty to me. Reading "Jackie and Me" brought back so many memories of their lives and mine! I had to keep reminding myself that this book was fiction. The author's language and writing style swept me into the character's emotions, actions, and time. I found myself wondering "what if". I found it to be a convincing read, a read I would recommend to book clubs, and a thoughtful portrayal of a man both loyal and lonely.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Theresa P. (Arkport, NY)

Jackie's pre-wedding years
A historic novel told from an unexpected narrator's view. Jack Kennedy's best school friend, Lem, tells the story of his introduction to Jackie Bouvier by JFK, and the unusual "courtship" years of the early 1950s he guides Jackie through at Jack's request.

It's a fascinating look of the preliminary years of Jack and Jackie's acquaintance up through their wedding. Lem proves to be as good a friend to Jackie as he is to Jack. He helps the relationship continue, in many ways far better than Jack. It isn't the fairy tale arrangement I would have expected--I only knew them as a married couple, and had never thought about what their earlier years had been.

Both the Kennedy family and the Auchincloss family are introduced in a way that often surprised this reader. Their home lives, the conversations they have, the expectations for their child's spouse they harbor, and their acceptance of the relationship are unusual.

The story will make for an interesting discussion, as the early years of their relationship are certainly not what I ever would have imagined. I am very glad I was chosen for a preview read. I encourage you enjoy this quick tale.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mary G. (Greensboro, GA)

Fascinating and Original
Jackie and Me focuses almost entirely on the courtship of Jacquelyn and Jack. It is told through the reminiscences of Jack's best friend from boarding school and his close confidant, Lem.

As portrayed by Bayard, the young Jacqueline Bouvier is an independent, strong-minded, contemporary woman who defied her mother's wishes that she make a suitable marriage and embarked on a journalism career. So how she came to marry the handsome, ambitious young politician who essentially courted her by proxy seems a strange choice.

Jack's "proxy" is his best friend Lem. Lem was witness to the entirety of the relationship of Jack and Jackie. Jack asked Lem to "keep an eye" on Jackie for him as he campaigned for the Senate. Lem and Jackie fell into a habit of spending time together on Sundays. Jackie's primary connection to Jack was through flirtatious phone calls and whatever information about him she could learn from Lem—who was close to the entire Kennedy clan. It became clear that Jack and Jackie actually had very little in common. Through Lem, the author pointed out a number of crossroads where the relationship might have ended. But Jackie, who had somehow developed a romanticized vision of Jack, stubbornly hung on.

Jackie and Me is a well researched and fascinating perspective on the King and Queen of Camelot. The author definitely comes across as "Team Jackie." Despite Lem's clear loyalty to Jack and the entire Kennedy clan, neither he nor his family are portrayed very favorably.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Barbara P. (Mountain Center, CA)

Hindsight is 20/20
I was drawn to this book because the idea of Jackie reminded me of my mother, who was enamored by all things Jackie - and this book did not disappoint in giving us a glimpse into her world as a young woman attempting to find her place. Knowing how the public parts of her life played out, and seen through the eyes of Lem in those early years, gave the book a melancholy feeling. I don't feel that it is a spoiler to say that none of this ends well - from a dynamic young woman marrying into family of power, scandal and moral ambiguity, to Lem spending his life in the secret and in the shadow of larger than life friends. This is a good read, skillfully developed and masterfully woven - but I would not advise anyone to pick it up as a story of Jackie. It is the story of Lem as he facilitates the pursuit of a future first-lady on behalf of his idol.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Peggy T. (Richardson, TX)

Jackie Pre Camelot
This book was good but not as good as his previous book Courting Mr. Lincoln. Maybe I expected too much because that previous book was so compelling. This was a bit pallid in comparison. I was a tween during the Camelot years and Jackie was interesting to me in the ensuing decades but maybe now I just don't care as much as I did. Also so, Lem was such a sad character that this book was a bit depressing. Not badly written but I just did not enjoy it as much as I thought it would.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sandra O. (Alexandria, VA)

Jackie & Me
Oh, what a read! It is fiction so close to fact that one could believe it all. It was narrated by Jack Kennedy's close friend, Lem Billings. He tells how he stood in for Jack taking Jackie every Sunday to art galleries and parties while Jack was busy entering politics. He mentions all the stores and restaurants I remember here in Washington in the 1950s. Jackie's encounter with Joseph Kennedy is fascinating. A real page turner, it feels like you are inside the trio's love affair and complicated marriage. And because the media was not on 24/7, much of their private life was quiet to those of us on the outside.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Shawna (TX)

Friendship and Courtship
For those who love historical fiction, this is an intriguing read of Jaqueline Bouvier's life before and her courtship with the Kennedy Family. Louis Bayard acknowledges this is a fictional work, but enough of the story rings true that it holds your interest and you wonder just how much Jackie Bouvier understood what marrying into the Kennedy family meant. The relationship between Lem Billings and Jackie is fascinating and at the center of the novel. For book groups, there would be many subjects to discuss.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jackie H. (Naples, FL)

JACKIE & ME
JACKIE & ME is a very engaging book. The author provides so much information behind the facade of the Camelot-like life of the Kennedys...who would have dreamed! The handling of her friendship with Lem was a cornerstone of the story.
As a college freshman when JFK was elected, I wanted to be like Jackie.
As much as I enjoyed reading THE COURTSHIP OF MR. LINCOLN, JACKIE & ME is better. Enjoy the read and recall the era!
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Gail K. (Saratoga Springs, NY)

A Successful Foray into Alternative History
Because I am of an age that I remember Jackie Kennedy Onassis, from her White House days to her death, I wasn't sure how I would like this "alternative history" written by Louis Bayard. Much to my surprise and delight, I enjoyed it enormously. I'd like to think that Jackie might have had a stalwart friend in Lem, the first person narrator, and that she was as strong and independent as she was portrayed. As for Jack, he is shown for the scoundrel that I suspect he was. At times funny and at other times quite poignant, this is a book I'll recommend, especially to my friends who might like to ponder what the pre-Camelot days might have been like. Kudos to Mr. Bayard for blending just the right amount of fact and supposition to produce a most enjoyable read.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Marie C. (Medford, NY)

Jacki O or No?
Bayard's "memoir"had its moments:sentences that were great writing, glimpses into the Kennedy life that felt like a well-directed film, and characterizations that rendered the famous pair as true-to-life as the fan magazines made them for decades before and after his death. But some of what I saw and imagined was gratuitous, making the narrator and his thinking more important than the characters he was attempting to bring to life in a nuanced manner. I was disappointed. As a Jackie O fan, I felt cheated of reality. I felt the sometimes snide judgments of the narrator as unnecessary. And, although well written, the book sometimes read like a Kitty Kelly tell all, where the narrator is more impressed by his own cleverness and access to the the "stars" than he is at peeling away the character's depth. Some of the observations even came across as sophomoric, looking to gossipy asides for accurate portrayal. It is an alternative portrayal for sure, but not one that engaged me.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Wendy P. (Jourdanton, TX)

New Point of View on Jackie Onassis Kennedy
This book was a bit of a slow start and I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I thought I would. I did like hearing from a different perspective. It was hard to remember that this was a work of fiction so I was constantly wondering how much artistic license the author took. Probably a good fit for readers who are big fans of Jackie O.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Mary Jane D. (Arlington Heights, IL)

Unlikely Friendship
Jackie and Me is the story of an unlikely friendship between JFK and his "fixer" Lem Billings and his relationship with Jackie. It adds some fictional drama to the historical facts that we know about Jack's philandering ways up to and after the wedding to Jackie. In the acknowledgments, Louis Bayard states that the book is a fictional work and an exercise in alternative history.

I wouldn't recommend the book to fans of JFK and the Kennedy's although Jackie is portrayed in a sympathetic manner.

I did not find the book compelling.It was a slow read for me and weighed down with some long passages that lost my attention.

I lived through the Kennedy years and I'd rather read historical fiction about events and people from periods I haven't experienced.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Laurie F. (Brookline, MA)

Interesting Story but Not Well Written
The premise of this book was interesting. It revolved around the complicated relationships of Lem and Jackie and the power Jack Kennedy (and his family) held over them. Lem and Jackie's connection was one of the needs for companionship and love. The reader sympathizes with Jackie and the lack of any sort of emotion from Jack, yet she could have said no. I found the writing to be difficult to follow sometimes, it didn't flow, particularly in the beginning. Was it poor writing or bad editing?

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