The author of National Book Critics Circle Award--winning The Queen's Throat (1993) embarks on another self-indulgent...

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JACKIE UNDER MY SKIN: Interpreting an Icon

The author of National Book Critics Circle Award--winning The Queen's Throat (1993) embarks on another self-indulgent adventure in cultural criticism. Koestenbaum takes for his subject ""the allure of icon Jackie,"" as opposed to the actual Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In lieu of an organizing thesis, he presents highly subjective flights of interpretive fancy about the images and themes that identify Jackie's ""iconicity."" In 40 short, impressively opaque chapters, the author spins out free-associative essays about ""Jackie's Hairdos,"" ""Jackie and Ordinary Objects,"" and ""Jackie versus Maria Callas"" (the table of contents is the most enjoyable portion of the book). His vision of icon Jackie is assembled from public artifacts, mainly tabloid and movie-magazine headlines, paparazzi and news photographs, and stray gossip, as well as the detritus of his own imagination, which finds Jackie metaphorically lurking in such unlikely places as Elizabeth Taylor's portrayal of Cleopatra. ""Symbolically,"" he ventures elsewhere, ""she wore sunglasses because she'd been wounded by JFK's assassination: she'd seen the sun implode, and, blinded, traumatized, could never again face light. Maybe she had no eyes!"" Koestenbaum seems to take rapturous, solitary delight in his own cleverness. The impulse to read the book as parody or as campy fluff is thwarted by its obsessive tone and by the profligate use of pseudo-critical language: ""Her unreality was touching, poignant; because we felt sorry for simulacral Jackie, isolated from experience and sensation, her unreality became the badge of her pathetic authenticity."" Whether rhapsodizing about the size of Jackie's head or sharing the reasons Jackie reminds him of Chiclets, Koestenbaum makes connections so personal that they provoke nothing more than wonder that an associate professor at Yale has so much time on his hands.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0312429231

Page Count: 200

Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995