The Editor: a Novel of Jacqueline Onassis by Steven Rowley

You know I can’t resist a book about the Kennedys, and after successful historical novels like Jackie and Maria: A Novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas (read my review here) and And They Called It Camelot (find my review here), I decided to take a chance with another Kennedy historical fiction novel called The Editor (Amazon) (AbeBooks) because of the low price on Kindle when I saw it.

From the Publisher:

From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.

After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie–or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office–has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.

Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…”

It’s the early 1990s. Let’s just start by saying that James has mother issues. So much so that he’s written a novel about his mother, but rarely communicates with her. His agent has sent him to a publisher because there’s some interest in his book, which is a new experience for James. When the editor he meets turns out to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, he’s gobsmacked. Why? Not just because she’s Jackie O., but because his mother revered the Kennedys; James middle name is Frances, told many times for Robert Frances Kennedy. So this is A. Big. Deal.

The book is humorous, poignant, and enlightening to me about gay life in New York in the early 1990s. James’ partner, Daniel, appears in only a few scenes, but is a fully-formed character. James’ relationship with his mother seems so real; even though I get along with my mother and always have, it is because of concessions I’ve made for the good of the relationship. James seems to refuse to take his mother as she is, and has issues with her because of it.

James keeps delaying the ending of his book, because he knows he’ll have to visit his mother in order to do it. James’ mother is a cold duck, not very giving of affection and doesn’t seem to care that his book is going to be published. When James does visit, she tells him some earth-shattering news that sends him reeling. I’m not going to spoil it here, but it’s a doozy. James spends much of the rest of the book dealing with the fallout of this news, and it affects him in all facets of life, most especially as a writer.

James and Jackie’s relationship seemed real, the way an editor and writer work together (or so I’m told). There’s a trip to Hyannis Port to work during the Democratic National Convention of 1992 (and a discussion of candidate Bill Clinton as well), as well as many lunches and get-togethers with Jackie. I thought the author did an all right job of portraying Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis according to the rare reports of her private life we have gotten over the years. She had a wonderful sense of humor, once you got to know her. You read some of that here. Her desire for privacy makes the dialogue and situations seem more real, not less.

The ending of the book, when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dies, is tastefully done and rather poignant. There’s closure in this book, not just for James and Jackie, but James and his mother.

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