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American Adultererby Jed Mercurio
Synopses & Reviews
"The subject is an American citizen holding high elected office, married, and father to a young family..."
From its opening line, American Adulterer examines the psychology of a habitual womanizer in hypnotically clinical prose. Like any successful philanderer, the subject must be circumspect in his choice of mistresses and employ careful calculation in their seduction; he must exercise every effort to conceal his affairs from his wife and jealous rivals. But this is no ordinary adulterer. He is the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
JFK famously confided that if he went three days without a woman, he suffered severe headaches. Acclaimed author Jed Mercurio takes inspiration from the tantalizing details surrounding the President's sex life to conceive this provocatively intimate perspective on Kennedy's affairs. Yet this is not an indictment. Startlingly empathetic, darkly witty and deft, American Adulterer is a moving account of a man not only crippled by back pain, but enduring numerous medical crises, a man overcoming constant suffering to serve as a highly effective Commander-in-Chief, committed to a heroically idealistic vision of America. But each affair propels him into increasingly murky waters. President Kennedy fears losing the wife and children to whom he's devoted and the office to which he's dedicated.
This is a stunning portrait of a virtuous man enslaved by an uncontrollable vice and a novel that poses controversial questions about society's evolving fixation on the private lives of public officials and, ultimately, ignites a polemic on monogamy, marriage and family values.
"Mercurio's third novel is a riveting imagining of the inner life of a satyrlike John F. Kennedy, referred to as 'the subject,' as he beds a steady stream of starlets, interns and prostitutes. Kennedy's well-known insatiable and sometimes comical philandering is juxtaposed against his often cruel relationship with Jacqueline, his brilliance as a statesman (excerpts from his actual speeches are included) and devotion as a father, offering a unique portrait of a powerful yet stricken and conflicted man. The villains are the methamphetamine-prescribing doctors and the bloodthirsty American generals pushing the world to the brink of Armageddon. JFK's contemporaries are also cast in provocative roles, with the coke-sniffing Marilyn Monroe plotting to be first lady, the mobbed-up Frank Sinatra and Kennedy's Soviet counterpart — a peace-seeking Nikita Khrushchev — all making memorable appearances. Kennedy has figured prominently in hundreds of books, but Mercurio's take on the subject is fresh, bold and provocative. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"American Adulterer," a novel based loosely on John Kennedy's days in the White House, purports to examine our former president's adulterous career. But people looking for pornography will be disappointed unless they're satisfied with medical pornography, which is another genre altogether. The narrative is set up as a faux case study, with the character based on Kennedy repeatedly referred to as "the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) subject." This places the author, who "trained as a doctor," in the omniscient position of being the medical authority who knows everything and doesn't shrink from sharing his opinions. But the medical narrator seems to have come from the 19th or early-20th century, owing a considerable debt to Havelock Ellis, whose vast work tended to define sex — either its absence or presence — as troublesome pathology. Sex — according to our way of thinking now — is perceived, for the most part, as a healthy activity. Celibacy, too, is often seen as a viable choice. Not so for the narrator, however, or the fictional president. Too little sex, for a man, could lead to headache, anxiety, indigestion and possible stroke. Too much sex and you might become a pervert or a sex fiend. Damned if you did; damned if you didn't. The sentences in this novel seem endless, averaging just three or four to a page. It's as if a student in remedial English had entered into a shotgun marriage with Marcel Proust. Example: "Sexual toxins circulate in spiraling abundance, causing headaches, nausea and muscle spasms, and the occasional sight of a physically appealing woman releases a spigot somewhere inside that pours more of the effluent into the subject's system, inflaming his already inflamed genital tubing, so that his prostate surgeon prescribes him a short course of antibiotics to ward off infection of the urinary tract, while Dr. Feelgood advises him the best remedy is ejaculation, not through facile masturbation, but through the process of full sexual intercourse with a stimulating partner, as the only certain method of releasing the suppurating juices that have been accumulating for weeks without remission." And here is the president in Beverly Hills, with only the Secret Service for company, about to give a speech: "The President is wary of being seen in public to eat a restricted diet, so he consumes the steak just as everyone else does, though in this case he suffers a beef intolerance, which exacerbates his abdominal discomfort. The speech goes over well, and he attempts to relax with a cigar and a whiskey sufficiently to propel himself through the customary glad-handing and arm-twisting, then the Secret Service conveys him to his hotel, two agents taking their stations outside his suite, while he suffers on the toilet for forty-five minutes. Afterward the President lies on the bed and consumes his nightly regimen of hormone replacers, painkillers, muscle relaxants, germ killers, bowel movers and stomach pacifiers, till his blood simmers with chemicals." But after a while the president can't take his physical discomfort anymore, and, over the objections of a Secret Service agent ("I have to report to my captain, Mr. President. Visitors to the presidential suite must be given security clearance prior to arrival and that takes time, as you know, sir."), he succeeds in enticing a fictional Marilyn Monroe up to his room: "He glances at her blond hair and the heft of her breasts, and soon after he coughs his poison into her." "American Adulterer" goes on like that and brings up some interesting questions: Was Marilyn Monroe sewn into that famous birthday party dress, or did it have a zipper, as the author contends? Did the president have three willing interns whom he called — because he couldn't remember their names — Fiddle, Faddle and Fuddle? Were Frank Sinatra's genitals the clear winner in an informal contest between him and the president? Did the president make jokes about the difference between an intern and a turd? Did J. Edgar Hoover actually say, "Mr. President, you, sir, are an immoral man, and you must resign"? Did the president really suffer from bouts of "scorching diarrhea," and if so, where does that show up in the scholarship? (The author's bibliography is sketchy at best — 15 volumes by my count, with three of them about President Bill Clinton.) And assuming Kennedy's diarrhea was "scorching," what business is it of ours anyway? Last but not least, who was it who coined the phrase "a thousand points of light"? The author suggests it was Eisenhower. I could have sworn it was George Herbert Walker Bush (and that Dukakis grumbled, "I don't even know what he's talking about"). Who knows? Who knows? The rules for defining pornography changed in the '70s, but before then, they used to be: 1. Does the work go beyond customary limits of candor? 2. Is the work utterly without redeeming social value? And 3. Is the predominant appeal to the prurient interest? As a former certified expert in the field (I've testified in well over a hundred pornography trials, both for the defense and the prosecution), I think I can say this book fits the definition on probably two counts. It can also be argued that certain kinds of pornography meet a need in our society. But, reader, be warned: If you're looking for steamy sex, you're not going to find it — except for repetitions of quaintly racy words like "concubine," "fornication," "fornicator." There isn't any sex here. It's all just "suppurating juices." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[M]esmerizing...a fascinating — if fictionalized — profile of our 35th president....
"It seems so obvious that one wonders why no one has done it before....Mercurio presents JFK as a liberal hero, rather than a hypocrite, just the man for those times, a fascinating synthesis of surrogate motive and political vision." The Guardian (UK)
"[A] risky (and risqué) fictional portrait....[A] seductive, intimate, and shattering slant on this hugely popular, wildly flawed, tragically fated leader." Elle
"Stylish, intelligent, often persuasive revisionist history, though perhaps too insistent on its premise: It's sometimes hard to tell whether the obsession with sex is JFK's or the author's." Kirkus Reviews
Mercurio presents an explosive, provocative fictional work about the life and times — and sexual dalliances — of John F. Kennedy during his administration.
From “a master of precision” (The Observer, London) comes an explosive, provocative novel about John F. Kennedy’s years in the White house: his political daring, his brave dedication to human rights, his devotion to his family—and his uncontrollable and unrelenting appetite for sexual adventure.
• Taut, magnificent prose: Mercurio’s premise—to chronicle Kennedy’s exploits, political and sexual, through the President’s own anguished but self-centered perspective—is bold to the point of hubris, but he succeeds in spades. The writing is elegant, spare, and wry; the narrative is exquisitely paced. The book’s ending is emotionally shattering— empathetic, redemptive, and shocking.
• Startlingly revisionist portrait of JFK: We see Kennedy at his best, as a visionary statesman, a former soldier turned moral pacifist, a loving parent and devoted husband. And we see him at his worst, as a compulsive philanderer whose countless conquests—of movie stars, socialites, secretaries, and interns—ruined hundreds of lives.
• Amazing cast of characters: They are all here: Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Judith Campbell, LBJ, Fiddle and Faddle, Eisenhower, and perhaps most memorably, Jacqueline Kennedy.
About the Author
Jed Mercurio trained as a doctor and, while at medical school, received extensive flying training with the Royal Air Force. As a resident in internal medicine, he wrote a groundbreaking medical drama for the BBC, Cardiac Arrest. His first novel, Bodies, was chosen by The Guardian as one of the top five debuts of 2002. He adapted the novel into an award-winning drama series for the BBC and is currently developing a version for American television. He lives outside London.
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