Saturday, May 22, 2010

American Adulterer: Too Much Information?

If the name JFK makes you envision a champion of civil rights, activist for nuclear disarmament, and a handsome, charismatic leader who was brutally snuffed out before his time, after reading American Adulterer, you will never view Jack Kennedy that way again.

Jed Mercurio, a British author with a medical background, offers a fictional glimpse into what could have gone on in the sex life, physical health and mind of JFK. Mercurio portrays Kennedy as such a medically ill person that we wonder how he ever had the clarity of mind to decide whether to wear the white shirt or the blue shirt, let alone to negotiate with Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy is on a host of medications for his Addison's, thyroid failure, and suffers with severe bouts of stomach distress. This is not to mention the incessant pain from his back, which was injured in his early years playing sports, fractured when PT 109 was blown up by the Japanese, became septic during surgery, and infected during a postop operation for a herniated disc. Wow! How could one person have such bad luck? And how could that man possibly have had the drive, and the intellectual rigor, to aspire to the highest office in the land?

I felt very sympathetic towards Kennedy reading about all of his ailments, although there was quite a bit of TMI, but the sympathy stopped the minute Mercurio provided a detailed description of Kennedys affairs. I'm not sure how I feel about sex addiction -- is it just a way for powerful men like Tiger Woods to justify their infidelity and exploitation of women because women throw themselves at them? Is it a psychological problem -- a type of sociopathy where an otherwise devoted husband has absolutely no regard for his wife or her feelings? Or is it biological? Do some men (and women) have extraordinary urges for sex that go beyond the "norm"? There are no easy answers but I had an uncomfortable feeling reading this book -- that I wasn't sure if I was really entitled to this info. Just because people are famous, or even world leaders, doesn't mean that I should know the intimate details of their physical health or sex life. On the other hand, Kennedy is part of history. And the old boys' network that kept his secrets is long gone. Maybe we're entitled to know some of this but not all.

Although this book clearly took a lot of time to write, and was well-researched and thought out, it was repetitive and too intimate a look at the man for my own taste. Mercurio succeeds in crushing whatever idolization we've had about the JFK years and the dreadful assassination. Instead, he is reduced to a skirt chasing invalid. Very sad.

Sigrid Macdonald, Author of Be Your Own Editor

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