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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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2023, 368 pages

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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.

Excerpt
Jackie & Me

It's the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, 1952, and there's still a late-winter nip in the Virginia air, but Jack always keeps the top down because, by age thirty-four, he knows how dashing his hair looks in high wind. We're due at Bobby and Ethel's that night, but Jack instead cuts across Chain Bridge. I shoot him a look, and he says—imagine the offhandedness—that we have an additional passenger.

"Oh, yes?" I say. "And who should that be?"

"A Miss Bouvier."

Mind you, there's nothing in that honorific Miss to signify a lady of distinction. He refers to virtually all his girls that way. She might be a cashier at the Montelle Pharmacy or Finland's deputy chief of mission, and you won't know until you've pulled up in front of her apartment building and seen her tottering through the front gate, a blonde in a crew-neck cardigan or a brunette in a bullet bra, and it's always the latter who raises her hand for you to kiss and the former who comes at you ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will 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

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 (Elizabeth VF). 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 (Lloyde N). 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 (Sharon J)...continued

Full Review (792 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

People (Best Books of Summer 2022)
Absolutely irresistible.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
The charms of Bayard's delightful new novel about Jackie Kennedy aren't only found in its historical context but also in its intelligent, witty tone and poignant dissection of friendship, class and betrayal. The outcome is surprisingly affecting, and Bayard's gamble of embarking on a well-known path from an unusual perspective pays off handsomely.

New York Times
Bayard is such an exuberant storyteller...Even if you're not a Kennedy enthusiast — even if your grandmother didn't have a framed picture of J.F.K. in her kitchen, as mine did, alongside one of Pope John Paul II — this stylish, sexy, nostalgic story will linger like Jackie's signature scent of Pall Malls and Chateau Krigler 12. It's a complicated bouquet of bitter and sweet.

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

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

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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.

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

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

Author Blurb Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek
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.

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

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

ANOTHER Book on Jackie Kennedy? Oh, Yes! It's Brilliant, Richly Imagined, and a Must-Read
ANOTHER book on Jackie Kennedy? Oh, yes, and it's a must-read! This is a delightful twist on the tale we all know about this beloved former first lady. Here's the twist: The "me" in "Jackie & Me" is Jack Kennedy's best friend ...   Read More
Fariha

Very good
That's a great book, best i've ever read.
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 ...   Read More
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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Lem Billings and the Kennedys

Black and white photo of JFK and Lem Billings holding a puppy in 1937Jackie & Me, Louis Bayard's historical novel about the early days of courtship between John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy (née Bouvier) is narrated by JFK's real-life best friend, Lem Billings. The two men met as boys while attending prep school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a product of two prominent families who came to America on the Mayflower. On his mother's side, he was a descendant of John LeMoyne, abolitionist and founder of LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically Black college in Memphis, Tennessee.

Lem and John F. Kennedy became roommates and friends at Choate when the former was 17 and the latter 16. John was often ill as a young ...

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