American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio
Published by Vintage Books
4th March 2010
Like any womaniser, the subject of this novel must go to extraordinary lengths to hide his affairs from his wife and colleagues. But this is no ordinary adulterer - he is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. Yet he is also a virtuous man enslaved by an uncontrollable vice. Startlingly empathetic, darkly witty and deft, American Adulterer takes inspiration from the tantalising details surrounding President Kennedy's sex life and medical secrets to weave a provocatively intimate portrait of the man's affairs, illness, courage and idealism - and in JFK's love for his wife, recreates one of history's most fascinating enigmatic marriages.
The subject is an American citizen holding high elected office, married, and father to a young family, who takes the view that monogamy has seldom been the engine of great men's lives. He has always had women - numerously, sequentially and simultaneously, in the form of family friends, heiresses, socialites, models, actresses, professional acquaintances, colleagues' spouses, party girls, shopgirls and prostitutes - following the youthful discovery that he liked women and they liked him.
Only in the course of longer-lasting affairs did hte question of marriage arise; it was not something he took seriously until his political ambitions began to include high office, whereupon it was clarified by numerous colleagues taht a good marriage was not merely an advantage but a necessity. A politician must remain publicly faithful to those principles and causes he chooses to follow; whether he remains faithful to his wife is another question.
Seven years ago, at age thirty-six, he married a beautiful young woman twelve years his junior. He will not admit defrauding his marriage vows. Before God, he decided not to be derailed by the impossibility of making promises based upon the permanence of love, when it is clear to any thinking person that to guarantee one's state of mind in twenty or even thirty years' time is preposterous. Taking vows is merely etiquette - as is appearing to observe them.
As a nation, there is still an unfulfilled obsession with the life of John F Kennedy. Not so much his political career, but with that of his private life. We read this book for our book group this month, and it was an interesting read. Written in the third person, it literally studies the life of the President from his election right through to his assassination. Whilst I struggled somewhat with the narrative itself (I would have preferred a first person take on the story), Jed Mercurio has written an indepth account of JFK's daliances whilst in office.
Covering his relationships with interns and colleagues' wives, plus the more well-known affair with Marilyn Monroe, it is amazing the lengths that not only the President, but his staff have to go to, to keep these matters secret, particularly from the First Lady herself.
The main subject of the book is the whole issue surrounding the President's infidelity, but for me the most thought-provoking subject matter was of Kennedy's health. If what is written here is correct, he was even more ill than I was aware of. Tablets for this, that and the other; at least two doctors prescribing and being consulted with permanently; and in a constant amount of pain seems to have been the life of this apparently healthy and charismatic man. It makes you wonder how he managed to put on such a persona when clearly things were incredibly difficult. I'm certainly keen to read more on Kennedy now after reading this book.
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