A scion of an American dynasty recounts years of addiction, mental illness, and family dysfunction—matters that, as the title suggests, are altogether too ordinary.
Kennedy, son of Ted, is probably best known today for crashing his car into a barricade in front of his workplace under the influence of medication. This memoir opens with that event, promising, “I’m never going to remember what actually happened that night in early May of 2006 when I slammed my green Mustang into the police barrier in front of the US Capitol.” The sentence is diagnostic, both mechanically and materially, of the narrative that follows: awkward, sometimes evasive, with good thoughts clunkily expressed. Why a green Mustang? That detail is less important than the multihued pills that punctuate the narrative. We sympathize with Kennedy when we learn that illnesses such as bipolar disorder fall into a category of things that members of the clan are supposed to face stoically, without making a fuss: “I grew up,” he writes, “among people who were geniuses at not talking about things.” Effectively shut out by his father as an embarrassing reminder of weakness, Kennedy squeaked by with a narrow electoral victory to become a U.S. representative, continuing a legacy of public service—and, sad to say, a history of drug and alcohol abuse. A quarter of Americans have a similar story, by Kennedy’s account. While’s there’s some special pleading involved—“My father would have been President of the United States if there had been progressive mental health treatment for him,” he insists—much of the narrative is given over to plainspoken advocacy for mental health initiatives, some enacted into law thanks to his persistent efforts. That account goes on too long, but it makes for a useful look at the politics underlying public health; to trust Kennedy’s anecdotes, it’s amazing that anything under that rubric gets done at all.
A mixed bag but of interest to health policy wonks and activists.