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Saturday, February 4, 2012

"American Adulterer", JFK, a sick, sex addict, president?

American Adulterer- Jed Mercurio

That's what British doctor-turned-novelist Jed Mercurio proposes in this original novel: a unique take on John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th American President, and quite probably the most loved one. A take that, without excluding his political achievements (Bahia Cochinos, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Berlin Wall, his fight for civil rights), deals basically with two not very pleasant sides of his presidency: his health, and his sex addiction. Kennedy fans, you have been warned. 

Mercurio builds the novel, that we can define as historical fiction, upon two pillars. First, a detailed (too clinically detailed for my taste, making it a bit annoying) and never-ending list of afflictions. From Addison's disease to thyroid, from ulcers to osteoporosis, JFK was a medical "goldmine", and a men condemned to a short life in constant pain. And second, Kennedy was a "fornicator". True, he famously told British Prime Minister Harold McMillan: "If I don't have a woman for three days, I get terrible headaches." But in "American Adulterer", the amount of  women that the "great man" uses makes it the most impressive achievement of his administration. 

"American Adulterer" is episodically structured. There's the real account of political issues that Kennedy had to dealt with, but mixed with a constant need to be medicated, in order to keep the illusion "America the strongest" has the most vital and healthier of presidents, and a countless string of concubines (from Marilyn Monroe to White House interns and professional prostitutes) to solve the different nature of his "other issue". It's a quite engaging cocktail, addictive for the reader too. 

Many questions arise while you read. Do we really have to believe he loves Jackie Kennedy? The book never questions it, but he's incapable to remain monogamous, tracing an interesting inner debate between love and sex. The first lady, at the same time, is a misterious passive-aggressive figure (obvious she knows about it, but she never shows). Personalities like British PM McMillan, Nikita Khrushchev, the aforementioned Marylin, Mary Meyer,  Frank Sinatra, the FBI that towards the end of the novel starts instigating him, while there's a White House network built to provide him the needed safeguards for his sexual adventures... There's plenty to get you going on this novel.

At the same time, there's a sense of dispersion throughout the book, as if Mercurio couldn't combine all the elements he has, leaving some secondary characters as sketches (women are particularly neglected as developed characters here). That feeling, and the clash between the huge, real problems JFK faced during his mandate and the infidelities gives "American Adulterer" a ligthweight tone that in too many occasions becames a farce. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the best example.

Overall, a risky, quite engaging and original book on one of the most popular politicians of modern history.

SCORE: 6,25/10

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