I love trash.
Hey, I'm as low-rent in my literary tastes as the next cretin on the
subway. Like lots of folks, I have at least a passing interest in the sordid
personal lives of public people, a trait I share with most great writers of all
time, including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Kitty Kelley.
There's something just a little too smarmy about the latest public exhuming
of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, his beautiful but
For this, we can thank Ed Klein, who used to be editor of The New York
Times Magazine. These days, Klein finds it far more lucrative to spend his
creative energies dissecting the dysfunctions of this single American family.
The Kennedys, it turns out, are a very big family, so this could go on a while.
Klein's latest book, his third Kennedy dissection, is called "The Kennedy
Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America's First Family for 150 Years." It is
excerpted in the August issue of Vanity Fair. Given the book's title, you might
expect to find it in the occult section at Barnes & Noble.
Here's Teddy, in a vampire's cape!
Here's Old Man Joe, climbing out of a crypt!
The dreaded Kennedy curse!
And maybe the B&N bookshelves should take note.
The book is a 256-page exercise in high-octane necrology. And Klein has the
strong commercial instinct to go where the money is. This go-round, he turned
his attention away from those picked-over Kennedys from the family's geezer
wing - you know, those dead politicians and all. His prime subjects this time
are two Kennedys (one by birth, one by marriage) who almost never sought the
public spotlight. But they sure had photogenetics on their side.
This time, he pulls on the bones and fumbles with the organs of the young
JFK Jr., dead in a plane crash even younger than his father and uncle were
killed, along with his fragile and possibly crazy wife.
No, this is not a business for the squeamish. How much ickiness are we up
In Klein's grubby prose, we learn that John wanted to have kids but Carolyn
didn't. We learn they went to a marriage counselor, but it didn't help much.
We learn that Carolyn was a cokehead. Maybe. She "displayed the classic
signs of clinical depression" too. And she hosted drug parties at the couple's
TriBeCa loft, inviting "gay fashionistas" into the First Son's marital lair,
even lending them his house keys.
She might have even slept with a Calvin Klein model. Or maybe not.
We learn she was physically violent toward her husband and might have
injured his wrist. Or maybe she didn't.
We learn all these things. Or maybe we don't. In the kind of gruesome
post-mortem that Klein has dished up, we can never be quite sure.
Most of this stuff is utterly uncheckable. Some of the dialogue is almost
certainly cooked. Klein's main source seems to be "a friend." And when it's not
"a friend," it's "friends" - as in "John told friends..."
"John told friends that he felt trapped in an abusive relationship," Klein
"One time he had to be rushed to an emergency room for an operation to
repair a severed nerve in his right wrist. He tried to dismiss the injury as
the result of a stupid household accident, but his friends knew better. They
were certain that Carolyn was the culprit."
Emergency room? What emergency room? Friends? What friends? And certain
why? Because John told them? Because Carolyn did?
In the end, there's no way for the reader to judge.
Did he really say all these things that the "friends" remember? The quotes
are plenty juicy, but the sourcing is maddeningly vague.
At one point, Klein quotes John as saying: "I want to have children, but
whenever I raise the subject, she turns away and refuses to have sex with me."
Too bad that one didn't come out while John was still alive. There might
have been some women in New York who'd have taken pity on him - if only to be
Or maybe not. We don't know. And the road map Klein has delivered can be
taken only on faith.
In the end, one powerful fact remains, a fact that doesn't hang on the
claims of anonymous "friends."
John Kennedy Jr. was a guy who never ran for public office. He did
everything humanly possible to deflect media attention from himself and those
In his life, he treated people with uniform grace and decency.
In death, he does not deserve this.
Ed Klein has every legal right to author a book like this one. St. Martin's
Press has every right to publish it.
But neither one of them should feel especially proud today.