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American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio

I've often wondered how history would have viewed Jack Kennedy if he'd died a natural death rather than by an assassin's bullet. As an extension of that I've also thought that he might not have lived that much longer had nature been allowed to take its course. He's one of the most-written-about Presidents of all time and finding a new angle – even a fictional one – is not easy, but Jed Mercurio has looked at Kennedy's adult life through the prism of his sexual peccadilloes and his health.

American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lightly-fictionalised look at the life of JFK through his philandering and his health problems. There's no sex in the book (honestly!) but it is compulsive reading particularly in some of the non-sexual areas. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099515876

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The details are too well-known to need much repetition, but few women were beyond his roving eyes. He famously said that if he went without a woman for three days he suffered headaches, but saw nothing abnormal in his high libido. Hollywood stars, employees at the White House and prostitutes all came and went. He took great pains to conceal his affairs (although that vastly over-states the length of the relationship in many cases) and whilst it seems that his wife knew about his philandering it seems that she chose not to make an issue of it. Others were not so forgiving.

If you're looking for a sexually titillating book then this isn't for you. It's a book about sex but with no sex in it. In fact it's oddly, almost clinically distant from Kennedy, referring to him as the subject throughout the book. It's almost a report, but whom it's written for is never clear. Is it a medical report? There are certainly enough major medical problems to make him an interesting study. It could, of course, be for the security services as the continuing debate about who was behind his assassination makes it clear that there was no shortage of people who wanted to see him dead.

Parts of the books shine out. The Cuban Missile Crisis is brilliantly handled and the sense that the world as we knew it might be about to come to an end was at the front of my mind despite the fact that I knew the outcome. The death of his premature son, Joseph, reduced me to tears, as the President held him in his arms and told him a story as he peacefully passed away. There were tears too on Kennedy's death.

I found the emphasis on sex a little much as I felt that it took away from the man whose life and death so affected my teenage years, but this is a personal viewpoint and not a criticism of the book, as despite what I've said there was no way that I could put the book down. Mercurio captures Kennedy's wit (and sometimes its bawdy edge), his vision and his coolness in a crisis. Whilst he's taken some liberties with the facts Kennedy the man still shines through.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a factual account of the Cuban Missile Crisis we can recommend One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs. For a reliable history of the Kennedy years, try Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot. If you'd like more fiction about nineteen-sixties America we can recommend America, America by Ethan Canin.

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Booklists.jpg American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio is in the Top Ten Books on President John F Kennedy.


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