By Ekta R. Garg
March 25, 2020
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: March 10, 2020
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A young woman becomes a household name as the wife of an up-and-coming politician who gets elected president. She deals with her husband’s ongoing infidelity and helps him through the stresses of his political career, only to have it all snatched away from her in an instant. Author Stephanie Marie Thornton uses her meticulous research methods to give the world an inside look at the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the well-intentioned but long novel And They Called It Camelot.
In the early 1950s, despite her sensible engagement to a long-time beau, Jacqueline Bouvier wants more from life. She’s not content to play the meek housewife or be relegated to the background, and her fiancé doesn’t understand that. While her work as a reporter offers her a chance to travel and assert herself, when she meets John “Jack” Kennedy at a party she’s awestruck. She falls headlong into a whirlwind romance and the glamorous life of the Kennedy political machine.
At first she thinks she and Jack have a love story for the ages, but Jackie isn’t completely blind. She sees how other women act around Jack and is horrified to discover that he reciprocates, even after she marries him. Many times.
Every instinct within her tells her to leave, but her father-in-law, Joe, convinces her to stay. Joe knows that his son’s star is on the rise, and Jackie’s addition to the family offers the American public the complete picture. Without Jackie, his son’s chances to capture the White House decrease dramatically.
Jackie and Jack come to an uneasy truce, but she still feels the sting of infidelity even all the way through her husband’s successful presidential bid. As First Lady, though, she has more matters to occupy her time. She breaks the major trends for fashion for First Ladies, decides to oversee the extensive renovations of the White House, and does her best to mend her fraught relationship with her sister. Vacations to her favorite spots in Europe help too, and so does being a mother.
Motherhood fulfills Jackie in a way that nothing else can, especially considering how hard she fought for it. Miscarriages and the death of two of her babies in infancy leave her heartbroken in a way that even Jack’s affairs can’t, and she adores and cherishes the children she does have. Unlike other politicians’ wives, she’s determined to be a constant in the lives of her son and daughter.
Jack only enjoys a scant thousand days as president, however, when he’s brutally assassinated. After his murder, Jackie finds herself floundering. Even after all his infidelities, Jack was the love of her life. She and Jack’s younger brother, Bobby, form a close bond, but nothing can take away the ache of losing her husband.
Despite overt public criticism, Jackie marries Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. At first, the retreat to Greece is the respite she needs from all the horrifying events of the day Jack was killed. Her relationship with Onassis is nothing like the marriage she shared with Jack, though, and she finds herself yearning for life in the States once again. After Aristotle’s death, Jackie returns to her beloved New York City where she becomes an outspoken advocate for the arts and a book editor. Through it all, her relationship with her children remains her anchor.
Author Stephanie Marie Thornton reveals in her author’s note the depth of research she did to present the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with as much authenticity as possible. The result is a novel that adds dimension to a figure in history who many may have assumed was just a pretty face. While modern-day readers might associate Jackie Kennedy with the pink suit and pillbox hat she wore on the day of her husband’s assassination, Thornton’s novel reveals her to be much more.
Jackie comes across as a modern woman stuck in the trappings of society. She doesn’t hesitate to fight back and she also gives herself grace when stuck in an impossible situation: with an unfaithful husband. The former First Lady’s anguish and inner turmoil ring true. Never mind that she’s married to the president of the United States. The concessions she makes for his career and family underscore the fact that at her heart, she’s a wife and mother who just wants her husband to stay home every single night.
The book might feel long in some parts; given that John Kenney was president for such a short period of time, Thornton takes time to delve into the Kennedy marriage before he won the White House and after his death. Many readers might appreciate Thornton’s unwillingness to leave them hanging; although Jackie Kennedy retreated from the public eye after her husband’s death, she did continue to have a life. The reminder makes the picture of this incredible woman that much more complete.
Those who enjoy books about the life and times of well-known celebrities with less coverage will definitely enjoy this novel. I recommend readers Bookmark And They Called It Camelot.