It begins with the 1999 plane crash that kills three people, devastating numerous families, friends, and the country: The fallen prince, John F. Kennedy, Jr., who left behind the promise of a future now cut short, and a sister, Caroline, who at forty-one, would become the keeper of the flame. He had once spoken to his sister about the subject of death, and how it seemed a common denominator for their family:
“We aren’t exactly cursed,” (he had said of the Kennedys), “but we’re pretty damn close to it. Yes, we’ve had our share of luck. We’ve been to the mountaintop. But there have been entirely too many tragedies, mostly of our own making.”
At this lowest point in a life, the author begins American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy, and takes the reader back to the early moments, with how life started for this little family with a handsome congressman, a beautiful twenty-four-year-old Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, and “the wedding of the decade,” on September 12, 1953. We follow this golden couple as their life unfolds in glamour, promise, and that eventually leads to the White House, with all of the ups and downs of this very public life that would become theirs.
Based upon a voluminous archive of personal interviews, we see a telling portrait of the Kennedy legacy and of the legacy left behind for John and Caroline, because of and in spite of their personal tragedies.
Not only do we see their growing up years after the assassination and how difficult that was for them, but of the Onassis years, followed by finally settling down again in New York, where they grew to adulthood. How Jackie protected them as much as possible, but then, finally, after she was gone, how they had to stand on their own.
Caroline and John showed distinct differences. “Despite her sporadic flirtation with the media, primarily when publicizing a book or appearing on behalf of a Kennedy-related project, Caroline remained essentially a private citizen. If John Kennedy Jr. was a one-man publicity magnet, if he good-naturedly parried with the press and accepted the lunatic excesses of public adulation and even, at times, enjoyed the attention, his sister preferred a quieter (and saner) existence. If anything, the death of her brother made her quest for privacy tougher. As the sole survivor of the Camelot mystique, she became the focus of a nation consumed with the passing of the torch.”
Even though I’ve read a number of books about the Kennedys, this tome filled in some missing pieces and fully drew the portrait of a generation of Kennedys that will live on in our collective consciousness, as a nation, and as individuals who once dreamed of a world like the one portrayed in Camelot. At 520+ pages, this book brought out much more than I expected. However, I would not recommend it for those who like a more direct telling of a story, since this one weaves back and forth, and brings in numerous seemingly extraneous details; this book earned four stars.