The Importance of Being Kennedy

The Importance of Being Kennedy

4.6 3
by Laurie Graham
     
 

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From the fictitious diary of the equally fictitious Kennedy nanny comes an inside look into the early years of the dynasty—with all the juicy bits intact.

Newly arrived from Ireland, Nora Brennan finds a position as nursery maid to the Kennedys of Brookline, Massachusetts—and lands at the heart of American history. In charge of nine children

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Overview

From the fictitious diary of the equally fictitious Kennedy nanny comes an inside look into the early years of the dynasty—with all the juicy bits intact.

Newly arrived from Ireland, Nora Brennan finds a position as nursery maid to the Kennedys of Brookline, Massachusetts—and lands at the heart of American history. In charge of nine children practically from the minute they're born—including Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby, Teddy, vivacious "Kick," and tragic Rosemary—she sees the boys coached at their father's knee to believe everything they'll ever want in life can be bought. She sees the girls trained by mother Rose to be good Catholic wives. With her sharp eye and her quiet common sense, Nora is the perfect candidate to report on an empire in the making. Then World War II changes everything.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Graham moves her focus from the U.K. royals she portrayed in Gone with the Windsorsto America's royal family in this imaginative fictionalization of the Kennedy clan's evolution between the world wars. The story is told from the perspective of Nora Brennan, an Irish immigrant nanny who watched over the Kennedy kids beginning in 1917. Though Nora adores each child, she grows especially fond of Rosie Kennedy, whose learning disability makes her the runt of the overachieving litter. Throughout her years of service, Nora discovers that beneath Mrs. K's prim and proper exterior is a "heart as hard as the hob of hell," only outdone by Mr. K's unrelenting pressure on his sons to succeed at any cost. Meanwhile, Graham guides readers through the family scandals, political triumphs and petty squabbles that lead up to WWII, which will change the lives of the Kennedy family and their faithful nursemaid forever. Though it's billed as a "bittersweet comedy," the Kennedys are easier to pity than to laugh at, and their lives are marred by tragedies that Nora suggests Joe Kennedy brought on himself. The family gets a very sympathetic if sometimes soft-focused treatment that should find a readership among those who came of age in the era of Camelot. (Mar.)

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Kirkus Reviews
A nanny's diary chronicles the goings on of a famous American clan. Having employed a similar voyeuristic technique in Gone with the Windsors (2006), British novelist Graham now turns her attentions to America's analogous imperial family via the remembrances of an observant Irish servant. With nine children under young Nora Brennan's charge and the tough matriarch Rose Kennedy breathing down her neck, it's a wonder Nora has time to put pen to paper. Her account sacrifices the political years, delving instead into the darker days between world wars to explore the peculiar domestic dynamics of the teeming family. Fierce father Joe is portrayed as a whirling dervish with voracious appetites. Rose, meanwhile, is described by the servant girl as having "a heart as hard as the hob of hell." Nora's affections run to slow-witted, disregarded Rosemary and obstinate social butterfly Kathleen, called "Kick." In a lush testimonial, Nora brings readers from the prosperous mansions of Hyannis to the war-torn streets of London, and finally to the eve of Jack's presidential campaign. It's in the book's denouement during World War II that the Kennedy tragedies take root. Jack sustains a wartime injury; Rose becomes the victim of a crippling lobotomy; and prodigal son Joseph succumbs to an early death. Even Nora suffers, sacrificing a chance at marriage and happiness to serve the family she calls "my Kennedys." The tart observations of lives of privilege may take the shine off the Camelot myth, but Graham's book is marked not by ridicule but rather by an elegant, forthright poignancy. A refreshingly nostalgia-free portrayal that breathes life into the Kennedy story.
Booklist
“Chatty and insightful...perceptive....Graham blends accurate historical detail with Nora’s outspoken and gossipy vernacular in this highly entertaining read.”
Daily Mail (London)
“A convincing and often moving version of the private realities behind America’s most public family.”
The Observer
“Entertaining...delves into the Kennedy family legend, with energetic pace, witty dialogue and vividly drawn characters.”
New York Times Book Review
“Mingling history and fiction puts Graham in good literary company…romance and dry humor keep things moving…. The chance to watch Nora’s employers swan in and out of view will draw readers, and Graham will keep as many as she can charm.”
New York Daily News
“Bitter and sweet as well as affecting...tender.”
Washington Times
“A titillating and amusing...book, because it walks such a fragile line between what is known fact and what the author has embellished and concocted....Ms. Graham’s Nora is the personification of the immortal nanny who knew everything and said nothing - but took notes.”
Daily News (New Plymouth
“Tightknit, ambitious and out to prove a point to the world, this is the fictionalised tale of the Kennedys from below the stairs....This simple yet enthralling narrative kept my interest the whole way....A lovely tale, this is another well-written offering from Laurie Graham.”
Daily News (New Plymouth))
"Tightknit, ambitious and out to prove a point to the world, this is the fictionalised tale of the Kennedys from below the stairs....This simple yet enthralling narrative kept my interest the whole way....A lovely tale, this is another well-written offering from Laurie Graham."
Daily News (New Plymouth)
"Tightknit, ambitious and out to prove a point to the world, this is the fictionalised tale of the Kennedys from below the stairs....This simple yet enthralling narrative kept my interest the whole way....A lovely tale, this is another well-written offering from Laurie Graham."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061970030
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/17/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
102,448
File size:
1 MB

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Read an Excerpt

The Importance of Being Kennedy
A Novel

Chapter One

Accidentally, Through the Keyhole

Herself came to the house at Smith Square. It was April 1948. She was meant to be going directly to Paris for gown fittings but then she announced she was coming to London first, to visit with Kick. Landed on us with all her bags and baggage as if it was the Ritz we were running. Now, I've seen Mrs. Kennedy walk away when her own child lay sick in bed, turn her back on him sooner than delay a shopping trip, so we knew she wasn't coming for the pleasure of it. There was trouble on the agenda.

Walter had to have the car at the aerodrome by eight in the morning. Too early for Kick to get herself out of bed and go with him.

I said, "I'd have thought you'd make the effort. Go and meet her, get off on the right foot."

"No fear," she said. "Talk about being trapped in a confined space. It could feel like a very long drive."

I was worried Mrs. K would start quizzing Walter about what had been going on, if she had him to herself. I said, "Just act dumb."

"Nay, Nora," he said. "I don't need to act. When you've been driving gentry for thirty-five years dumb comes natural."

It was about eleven when they arrived. Mrs. K looked as smart as a brass button, as usual. You'd never have guessed she'd been on an airplane all night. She walked right past me in the hallway, unsnapped the fox head on her stole, handed it to Delia and made straight for the drawing room, still wearing her little hat, one of those round wee chocolate box affairs with a bit of net veiling that came down over her brow.

"Kaaaaathleeen,"she started. "We are going to have a very serious talk."

I don't care how many elocution lessons she's taken, she still has a voice on her that would clip a thorn bush. And it was something to see how that girl crumbled the minute she saw her Mammy. She was like a naughty child who knew she'd be getting the strap. It was all about her carrying on with Blood Fitzwilliam. It had finally dawned on Mrs. K that Kick wasn't as worried as she might have been about her money being cut off if she didn't stop seeing him, so she'd come in person to threaten her with the everlasting fires of hell. The lovebirds were in the country when the cablegram came, seeing his horses put through their paces on Newmarket Heath, but Kick came hurrying back to town as soon as she heard her Mammy was coming. She knew she was in hot water.

She said, "Mother can have my room. The guest room's too small for her. Give my room an extra spit and polish. I want everything to be perfect."

I said, "Then you'd better get yourself round to Farm Street and see Father D'Arcy, because the first thing she'll want to know is, have you been to confession? What bedroom we put her in will be the least of it."

She gave me one of her monkey faces. And that room of hers needed more than spit and polish. I've done my best with those children over the years but there's not a one of them ever learned to hang up a jacket.

I said, "What will we do about dinners? Will you have company in while she's here?"

She said, "If you mean Blood, no. He's going to make himself scarce. Maybe I'll invite Sissy though. Mother thinks Sissy sets the perfect example. Or maybe we should have tray suppers and I'll read aloud from Lives of the Saints. I just want to stop her ranting- till Daddy's met Blood. He'll talk her round. I think Blood and Daddy'll really get on."

I didn't. No more than a pair of turkey cocks could be left in the same pen. Mr. K liked -people he could order around and so did Lord Fitzwilliam. And as for anybody talking Herself round, the very idea was nonsense. There was only ever going to be one thing that would satisfy her, and that was for Kick to go home and marry a nice Catholic boy, if one could be found who'd overlook her history. I knew Kick would put up a fight but I was sure her Mammy would win the day and that'd be the end of that. Blood Fitzwilliam would be given his marching orders, Smith Square would be let go and so would we.

Well, then it started. All you could hear was Mrs. K's voice.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you, Kathleen."

"Perfect purity and self-control, that's what you were taught at Sacred Heart."

"After everything that's been done for you, Kathleen Kennedy. Every advantage in life you've been given."

The few bits I didn't manage to hear accidentally through the keyhole I could guess. Promises of hellfire and damnation. The threat of being cut off, not just from her Daddy's deep pockets. From the holy sacraments as well. As long as her Mammy was calling her "Kathleen" I knew she was holding out. They'd had no lunch, not even a glass of soda taken in, and it got well past the time when Mrs. K usually takes her afternoon rest. Then things fell quiet. Herself came out from the drawing room and told Delia she was going upstairs to nap and wasn't to be disturbed till five o'clock. Kick was asleep in an armchair when I went in, curled up in her stocking feet with a little sodden hanky balled up on her lap. Round one had gone to Mother.

Then it was my turn.

Delia said, "She's rung for a glass of milk, Nora, to be taken up by you, most particular. Thank God. She frightens the bejaysus out of me."

The Importance of Being Kennedy
A Novel
. Copyright © by Laurie Graham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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