“Paul’s pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, elegant prose, and sound plotting combine to create a sensational and spellbinding package.”
— Publishers Weekly
“An addictive pleasure, offering readers a front-row seat to an infamous rivalry and the opportunity to hobnob vicariously with the rich and famous.”
— Library Journal
For decades, intrigue has surrounded two famous women: Jackie Kennedy, the elegant wife of John F. Kennedy, and Maria Callas, renowned opera singer and longtime partner of “Ari” Aristotle Onassis. We are deeply curious about their lives, their loves, their dreams. The complicated connection between these two celebrities is shown to us in vivid detail in Gill Paul‘s new book, Jackie and Maria (William Morrow Paperbacks).
The author juxtaposes chapters in which we get an insider’s view of both women’s frustrations, aspirations and sorrows. While we are familiar with their troubles, in this fictionalized account, we keenly feel their battles and their early sadness. For Jackie, it was her daughter Arabella who was stillborn and her baby Patrick who died after several days. For Maria, there is the belief that she had a son named Omero who died in infancy as well.
COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS WITH POWERFUL MEN
Beyond such tragedy were the men. Maria’s relationship with Onassis was complicated, as was Jackie’s with JFK. One can’t help but wonder if these two impressive women realized how they were positioned by these men, even as they trudged on, without considering any alternative. Or were they too entrenched to see how they were being treated? Their investment in these relationships was palpable, and their hope for success became an overwhelming aspect of how their stories played out.
Paul does a fine job of putting us inside both women’s heads. We know how Jackie felt when Marilyn Monroe performed at Madison Square Garden and sang “Happy Birthday” to the President. We feel as if we are there on the yacht with Maria as her suspicion grows that Ari is having a fling with Lee Radziwill (Jackie’s sister). Through the eyes of these women, we are witness to the infidelities of both Jack and Aristotle.
While Jackie and Maria knew of one another for a long time without actually meeting, their lives eventually intersected. Once Jackie was widowed and began her relationship with Ari, the two women ended up rivals for one of the wealthiest men on the planet. As we read about Onassis, we are reminded how money and power transformed him into a catch — coveted, worth fighting for. The reader can’t help but sympathize, admire and mourn for the women.
FACTUAL DRAMA INFORMS FICTIONAL TENSION
What’s striking in reading Jackie and Maria is how the author pulls us in; we relate to their yearnings and goals at the mercy of the men in their lives. In the mid-twentieth century, Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas were prizes, and any desire for these two women was commingled with who they were in exterior ways. John F. Kennedy’s widow was too tempting for Onassis to resist. Just as Marilyn Monroe seemed impossible for JFK to resist.
As the story moves forward, the real-life drama heightens. Lee Radziwell certainly wanted Ari, and Jackie somehow missed that memo, but she, like her sister, was very aware of Maria Callas’s hold on Onassis. Still, there were persistent triangles everywhere: Jackie, Maria, Ari; Lee, Jackie, Ari; Jackie, the Kennedys, Ari.
Yet, escape was virtually impossible — despite Jackie’s plan. As tragedy for the Kennedys persisted, and Bobby, too, was assassinated, Onassis offered protection, escape, an alternate life. Yet, none of it was simple. Jackie was haunted by how her husband died, and Ari by the death of his son, Alexander, in a plane crash.
Women as prizes, men as status, money as key, in a game of musical chairs with a monomaniacal eye on the winnings. Vanity, wardrobe, opulence, heartbreak — as their lives converged. In the end, it is the women who prevail. Jackie becomes an editor at a publishing house and Maria remains one of the divas of her day. Paul’s novel engages us in the lives of two unforgettable women who, despite their luxurious lives, endured a great deal.
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