Before Jacqueline Bouvier became that Jackie, she was a young socialite with journalistic ambitions, who caught the eye of then-congressional member Jack Kennedy. Louis Bayard's 10th novel, Jackie & Me, is an engaging yet melancholy account of Jackie's friendship with Lem Billings, whom Jack asked to court Jackie on his behalf.
Bayard (Courting Mr. Lincoln) begins his narrative in 1981, as Lem looks back 30 years to the summer when he and Jack met Jackie. In extended flashbacks, Lem describes his friendship with Jack (dating back to their days at prep school) and his role in the swirl of Kennedy family chaos. Jackie, meanwhile, comes off as fresh-faced and kind, uncertain of her direction but longing to find meaningful, exciting work. As she and Lem spend time together on Sunday outings, which range from visits to art museums to the circus, both of them gradually realize that Jack may become Jackie's life's work, though at greater personal cost than she expects.
Bayard deftly portrays the classism of high society in the 1950s; the competing snobberies of Jackie's mother and Jack's father are particularly well-drawn. He hints that Lem was gay but never discusses it too openly (as, indeed, was the case for Lem in real life). His characters often speak in elegant riddles, and the narrative drama rides largely on what goes unexpressed: namely, Lem's deep love for Jackie and the complicated affection they both harbor for Jack. Bayard's novel provides a fresh take on an enigmatic icon and shines the spotlight on a man who built his life around being the loyal friend. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams