John F. Kennedy reportedly once remarked that if he didn’t “have a woman” for three days, he’d suffer terrible headaches. In the mesmerizing new novel American Adulterer, by Jed Mercurio (available 7/7), those insatiable urges have inspired a fascinating—if fictionalized—profile of our 35th president.
Mercurio adopts a clinical tone—referring to the president throughout as “the subject”—painstakingly detailing Kennedy’s chronic back pain and stomach ailments alongside his almost pathological philandering. But the book never descends into the sordid; in fact, what emerges is a poignant and empathetic portrait of a hero with a particular tragic flaw. Marilyn, Frank, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Kennedy’s feelings about his country and children are all accounted for. But, considering its detached tone, the novel surprises in being both darkly funny and incredibly moving—particularly when it comes to the first lady, the only woman, among the (very) many, who can lay claim to the president’s heart.
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