Political mistresses are a topic that everyone would probably be happy to see off the newsstands for a while. Clinton, Edwards, Schwarzenegger – the list goes on. The tabloids publish the story, it hits the evening news, everyone hears about it, but these affairs are no longer kept secret. No political scandal is off limits.
In Once Upon A Secret: My Hidden Affair with JFK, author Mimi Alford shares her thoughts on just how much freedom the media gave Kennedy as a womanizer. It has become known that he worked hard and played hard, but this was never discussed during his terms in office. Few people knew of his affair with Alford, but this tell-all changes that.
The whole beginning of the novel is drenched in naiveté. Alford manages to write the story so that the tone matches exactly how a 19-year-old star-struck girl would portray herself. We are in the moments with her, feeling what she feels.
The book includes details that seem as if they would be hard to yet not everything has these telling details. I wonder if this is because certain scenes will stick in a person’s mind forever, even ones that have no large significance.
The beginning of the affair started with a midday swim. I’ve had a couple internships now, and I can’t say that I would be comfortable borrowing a swimsuit and diving into a pool with the boss on my fourth day around. That night brings about the awkward first time – of the affair, and for Alford, ever. The scene takes place in Mrs. Kennedy’s bedroom. Yeah, that’s right. The wife’s bedroom.
The entire story is a downward spiral. The excitement of an internship at the White House and flying on Air Force One gives way to more sexual encounters not only involving JFK, drugs and eventual misery. Her first husband finds out about the affair, says he will forgive her and makes her promise to take her secret to the grave. her intention, and she bore her burden until reporters started digging. The second half of the book is much harder to read than the first, as it’s not just about playful bath times with the Commander-in-Chief.
Alford claims that she is not ashamed of what she did. Of what I read, it’s almost as if she is trying to convince herself. She writes this novel, years after the fact and even years after she was exposed, with the idea that a granddaughter might need to get the facts straight rather than reading rumors. There is no sense of regret and little commentary to say that what she was doing was not ok.
The whole thing feels surreal. Not like it couldn’t have easily happened, but in the way that it’s being told. Alford is almost casual in her revelation. A teenager and the (45-year-old, albeit handsome) President? “Mr. President,” as Alford always addressed him? I don’t know whether to feel sorry for her or write her off as a foolish intern at the end of the day. After the last page, I was saddened, I know that much. While the events of the story itself don’t seem to be entirely unbelievable, I can’t say I believe Alford’s portrayal of her own feelings.
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