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Discussion Guide

Jackie & Me

By Louis Bayard

In 1951, former debutante Jacqueline Bouvier is hard at work as the Inquiring Camera Girl for a Washington newspaper. Her mission in life is “not to be a housewife,” but when she meets the charismatic congressman Jack Kennedy at a Georgetown party, her resolution begins to falter. Soon the two are flirting over secret phone calls, cocktails, and dinner dates, and as Jackie is drawn deeper into the Kennedy orbit, and as Jack himself grows increasingly elusive and absent, she begins to question what life at his side would mean. For answers, she turns to his best friend and confidant, Lem Billings, a closeted gay man who has made the Kennedy family his own, and who has been instructed by them to seal the deal with Jack’s new girl. But as he gets to know her, a deep and touching friendship emerges, leaving him with painfully divided alliances and a troubling dilemma: Is this the marriage she deserves?

 

Narrated by an older Lem as he looks back at his own role in a complicated alliance, this is a courtship story full of longing and of suspense, of what-ifs and possible wrong turns. It is a surprising look at Jackie before she was that Jackie. And in best-selling author Louis Bayard’s witty and deeply empathetic telling, Jackie & Me is a page-turning story of friendship, love, sacrifice, and betrayal— and a fresh take on two iconic American figures.

 

This discussion guide was shared and sponsored in partnership with Algonquin Books.

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

Although the bulk of Jackie & Me takes place in the early 1950s, the story is told by Lem Billings from the vantage point of 1981. What does this perspective do for our understanding of the book and its characters?

What common ground do Jackie and Lem find during their initial meeting? Does the nature of their relationship change as they become better acquainted? What do they get from each other that they don’t get from anyone else?

Lem uses quantum physics as an analogy for life’s potentialities, suggesting that “embedded in every human life, there are traffic crossings, where . . . we would see the contingencies of our fate coming together and commingling, before charging off in opposed directions.” What do you think of this model? Does it apply to moments in your own life?

“Riveting, funny, charming, and haunting. All of Louis Bayard’s incredible gifts as a teller of stories we think we already know are on brilliant display here: a captivating setting, unforgettable characters, and an entirely  surprising take on a familiar tale . . . He makes it look so easy! I will happily follow Bayard wherever he leads.” 
—Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author of The Nest and Good Company

 

“We all dream of novels as good as this one: Fascinating, funny, gorgeous, heartbreaking.”
—Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank with Me and Better Luck Next Time

 

“A meditation on the definitions, possibilities, and failures of friendship . . .  As for Jackie, she’s pure delight . . . [Jackie & Me is] romance with bite: The perfect escapism for today’s anxious times.” 
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

“[Bayard] brings a poignant empathy, persuasive intimacy, and nuanced imagination to . . . a relatively unexamined chapter in Kennedy lore.”
Booklist (starred review)

 

“A startling rendering of Jackie Kennedy’s life written with panache and daring.”
—Laurence Leamer, bestselling author of The Kennedy Women and Capote’s Women