Book Review: "The Nine of Us"

By: 
Ben Miles

Kennedy is a surname that evokes royal images, the era of the American Camelot. It’s a name that carries with it memories  that rival a Shakespearian tragedy.  From the heights of heroism to the depths of scandal and despair, Kennedy is a name ensconced in American mythology and political lore.

But what it’s like to be a Kennedy is perhaps best revealed by a true Kennedy insider and sole surviving sibling of that Greatest Generation of the Kennedy clan, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland: Jean Kennedy Smith. 

In her loving family memoir, the 89 year-old Ms. Kennedy Smith avoids the sorted tales of her father’s (Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.) purported bootlegging enterprises or his appetite for extracurricular womanizing. Instead what we are offered is the patriarch’s habit of declining desert, but of having an ever-ready supply of sweet treats hidden away in his private stash.

We also – instead of learning the details and explanation of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s 1969 automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island that left 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne dead at the scene – are told of how Kennedy matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy would discipline her children with time out in a closet and how in one instance the harried mother sentenced “Teddy” to time behind the closed closet door. But she forgot that young Jean was already serving a sentence in the same closet. As it turns out, the two Kennedy kids ended up in playful laughter, after a while. It makes for a warm childhood memory while also underscoring the daily tribulations of being a mother of nine children.

Ms. Kennedy Smith’s memories are singular and unique to her formative experience growing up as a Kennedy. Now she’s the only one left with those understandably rose-colored recollections. And in 257 pages, divided into 16 chapters and an epilogue, Ms. Kennedy Smith conveys her remembrances with authenticity and affection.

In the book’s epilogue Ms. Kennedy Smith writes, “It is sometimes difficult to comprehend that I am the only member of our original family. Anyone who has lost someone they love understands the feeling.”  So true. It is such wholesome bites of wisdom that makes “The Nine of Us” worth reading; that and the fact that the story of the Kennedy clan is a story intertwined with the story of America.

 

“The Nine of Us”

Copyright 2016

HarperCollins Publishers, 195 Broadway, New York, New York, 10007

ISBN: 978-0-06-244422-6

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