The Australian Women's Weekly|July 2020
There’s something celestial about the Kennedy family. They are America’s royalty, a clan of seductive, beautiful people whose impeccably styled technicolour daily lives are shrouded in myth, rumour and simultaneous deification and condemnation. The most tumultuous moments in the family’s life changed the course of history, while the seeming bad luck – which began 105 years before John F. Kennedy’s assassination when his great-grandfather was felled by cholera, age 35, and continues to this day with his grand-niece and her eight-year-old son tragically losing their lives in a canoeing accident only three months ago – has been mythologised into a curse.
It’s no wonder then that thriller writer James Patterson, one of the best-selling authors of all time, decided to examine the rise and fall of the dynasty in his new book, The Kennedy Curse. Patterson mostly writes fiction and has transferred those skills to this non-fiction pageturner which boasts the pace and lustre of a gripping epic. “I have written it with a novelist’s tone: it’s just story after story after story, there’s drama to it,” he opines.
Before reading the book, I thought there was nothing more to be said about the Kennedys – no stone unturned, no conspiracy theory untapped – but the intimate detail Patterson reveals revives the family for a new generation to pore over. “It’s just an unbelievable tale. I thought that nobody had told the whole family’s story,” he explains.
We are talking on the phone. James Patterson is “staring at the ocean”, he tells me and working up a storm while in COVID-19 lockdown in his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He’s rightly chuffed with the book and feels it has all the makings of Netflix hit The Crown and is already working on a screen adaptation. “It’s the American Crown. The Kennedys are a lot more interesting than Elizabeth [Princess, then Queen Elizabeth II] was – in my opinion – and as well as their story, you are also telling the story of that era. There’s so much in my book that people didn’t know,” he continues. “What’s more, there are a lot of people under 40, under 30, under 20, who don’t know the story at all.”
He’s right. The Jack and Jackie story happened a half a century ago and is ripe for revisiting while the wider family is still evolving. Patterson’s prologue sets an extraordinary scene that is certainly new and, he suggests, can easily be imagined as a movie opener.
A frail old man wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and his niece Anna grabs the nearest cover, which she places over him. It’s Joseph (Joe) Kennedy Snr, President John F. (known as Jack) Kennedy’s father. “Joe has had a stroke,” explains Patterson. “He has been convalescing at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, too ill to attend his son’s funeral.” After that iconic state occasion when the whole world mourned, a distraught Jackie Kennedy comes to see her father-in-law, kisses him goodbye and leaves the flag that was draped on Jack’s coffin near Joe Snr’s bed. She wants him to have it.
“Joe can’t communicate beyond moaning words and he’s freezing cold. Finally, Anna comes in and is rummaging around in the bedroom and covers him with this flag ... to me it’s just such a telegraphic scene,” says Patterson. “Trapped inside his early paralysed body, he struggles to pull himself free from the flag,” he writes.
Sense of doom
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