A fictionalized diary of real-life socialite Kathleen Agnes Kennedy (1920-1948) offers her thoughts on family, geopolitics, and love.
The narrator, nicknamed “Kick,” is born into extraordinary wealth and privilege as part of the Kennedy family. In this depiction, she’s shown to be a precocious observer of human affairs from an early age. When her father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., is appointed ambassador to Great Britain, she moves with him to London and rubs shoulders with the likes of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, and the British royal family. Her dad, however, is an “outspoken anti-Semite” who tries to convince Jewish, anti-Nazi Hollywood producers that gentile Americans would blame Jewish people for dragging the country into a bloody conflict abroad. He also gullibly believes Adolf Hitler’s empty promises of peace and is a political adversary of both Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who furtively collaborate to bring the United States into the war. Kick has no illusions about Hitler’s dangerousness: “Hitler tests my faith in a just God,” she writes. She falls in love with Billy Cavendish, the “heir to the richest duchy in England,” but their relationship is vigorously opposed by both families on religious grounds—his family is Anglican and hers, Catholic. When Billy dies in the war, Kick is crushed by despair, although she eventually falls in love again, with handsome and charming British noble Peter Fitzwilliam.
Throughout this account, Braudy (Family Circle, 2004, etc.) deftly captures her subject’s lacerating wit and charming forthrightness. After her wedding night, for instance, Kick writes, “Needless to say, certain things can only improve. It is the most important night of my life.” The author also ably chronicles Kick’s work for American spy chief Gen. “Wild Bill” Donovan, who asked her to keep tabs on and distribute “fake gossip” to “commie sympathizers” in England. Overall, Braudy portrays her as a remarkably accomplished and daring woman, especially for the age. Kick also works as an editor and writer for the Washington Times-Herald, and readers can see, in her diary, the pithy humor, gimlet-eyed observation, and authorial concision that make up good journalistic writing as well as her confidence in espousing heterodox views. Braudy also provides what feels like an intimate look at the intramural squabbles and tensions of the Kennedy family; of particular interest is Kick’s devotion to her father despite his considerable character flaws, including incorrigible philandering, tyrannical impulses, parochial closed-mindedness, and mercurial anger: “How can I love Daddy and hate so much of what he says? Brother Johnny says it’s his Irish charm.” Further, the author poignantly shows Kick’s close, tender relationship with her aforementioned brother, future president John F. Kennedy, which included a shared political ideology. The anguish that Kick experiences when John’s life is imperiled during his military service is palpable. Braudy does a marvelous job of making readers feel as if they’re witnessing a confession that’s never seen the light of day—as if they’re truly stumbling upon a secret.
An impressively intelligent and buoyantly written novel.