Forget conspiracy theories, Chappaquiddick, that whole silly Sotheby’s auction, Drew Barrymore aping Marilyn Monroe on the cover of George, and all the other jumbled, sordid documents of Kennedymania that have piled up over the years. It’s the fine old-fashioned love story of Jack and Jackie, with its movie-star good-looking principals and super-concentrated quotient of glamour, politics, and tragedy, that’s at last making a comeback.
Presumably, Jackie’s death two years ago prompted journalist Edward Klein, one of her many lunching acquaintances of the ’80s publishing scene, to drum up the nerve — and the sources — to pen All Too Human. Its title notwithstanding, the book does little to make us feel that its subjects were anything remotely like you or me, with its painstaking, almost hungry descriptions of these exceptional lives’ minutiae, right down to their wallpaper and drapes. Klein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine for 11 years, interviewed a wide circle of Kennedy intimates, including Jackie’s legendary designer, Oleg Cassini, mobster Sam Giancana, Robert Kennedy Jr., and a slew of Auchinclosses. Conversations on and off the record with such people have enabled the author to recount — with formidable self-assurance — conversations and thoughts to which only the Kennedy couple could have been privy. Klein, Peeping Tom-style, even observes Jackie as bored housewife, at home alone ”smoking cigarettes, biting her nails, and singing along with [a] record.”
This kind of long-after-the-fact, dubiously reconstructed eavesdropping might aggravate historians, but it produces the most satiny of reads. The question is whether the book, with its dream-dinner-party list of informants, amounts to anything less frivolous. Do we really need to know, after all these years, whether or not Jack slept with Jackie’s sister Lee? Must we really try to identify, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the lucky winner of Jackie’s virginity?
Probably not. But given the sort of salacious interest that’s always hung around this most scrutinized of marriages, Klein’s title is pretty apt. Savoring this book — despite the occasional pricks of conscience — is all too human. B+