“They wanted to talk. No, they needed to talk, to set the record straight, to tell the story of these two remarkable people as they knew it.” Thus bestselling author Christopher Andersen (THE DAY JOHN DIED) explains how he was able to get so many famous people from an earlier era to come forth with stories of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable couples, Jack and Jackie --- or, simply, The Kennedys. Such icons as Gore Vidal, Oleg Cassini, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, and many more contributed to this paean to the last year of the marriage that lasted 10 years, the presidency that lasted less than three.
"THESE FEW PRECIOUS DAYS is not a mere scandal tell-all, though the Kennedys gave us plenty of latitude for speculation. Andersen’s account carries weight as it examines the tension, depression and fear at the White House during the crucial days of the Cuban Missile Crisis."
Andersen takes us behind White House doors for a very intimate look at Jack and Jackie Kennedy at home, even undressed. He recounts Jackie’s resolve to sleep with her husband whenever he was home, and his unstoppable inclination to bed other women whenever he wasn’t. The rumors about Marilyn Monroe are bared at last, revealing that Jackie knew all about Jack’s carryings-on with the emotionally scarred actress, who actually believed Jack would soon leave his wife for her. Even with the perspective of many years, readers who hold dear the memories of those bright days may wince at “too much information” about the first couple’s sex lives, and perhaps even more so to have to recall that, like so many Americans at the time, the lovely Jackie was a chain smoker.
In addition to the clinical knowledge of Jack’s many ailments --- he seems to have been unusually physically handicapped for one considered a sportsman and tireless lady’s man --- we are told that the whole White House gang was zestfully taking injections of amphetamines from an infamous medical advisor known as “Dr. Feelgood.”
However, THESE FEW PRECIOUS DAYS is not a mere scandal tell-all, though the Kennedys gave us plenty of latitude for speculation. Andersen’s account carries weight as it examines the tension, depression and fear at the White House during the crucial days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most poignant, though, are undoubtedly the scenes surrounding the premature birth and death, after 39 hours, of the infant Patrick. Not only can we identify with the mother’s pain and grief, we are told that Jack, for the first time, came openly unglued at the death of his little son. This family tragedy occurred just a few months before the fateful day in Dallas, a day Jack wanted to avoid but could not. A day that some would later say set in place a template of violence, rage and despair that swept the nation and then the world. A day that ended the shared American dream that was the Kennedys.
Jackie spent too much, Jack philandered; she was a snob, he was a spoiled rich kid. But the couple was often seen sharing gossip like two smitten teenagers, tête â tête, in the midst of grand public occasions when they arguably should have been paying attention to guests. It’s hard to imagine a more romantic, tempestuous relationship, more familial, more fraught with the huge cares of the entire world, played out in the world’s spotlight. In the end, as Andersen says, "It all came back to the electrifying young couple in the White House that held the world spellbound for a thousand days.”
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on August 16, 2013