Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Remains, by Carole Radziwill

Carole Radziwill lost her husband, Anthony, within the same two-week span that Anthony's first cousin, John Kennedy Jr. and his wife (Carolyn Bessette, Carole's best friend) died in a plane crash. It was an unbelievable confluence of tragedies, a story just waiting to be written.

Carole actually has some writing chops - she worked for ABC News before her marriage, winning an Emmy. In the back storyof this memoir, she tells of her modest, colorful family, and how her spunk facilitated getting her out of the small town where she grew up, just outside of New York. It was during her tenure at ABC News that she met Anthony Radziwill, a descendant of Polish royalty. I liked Carole Radziwill's writing, and her story is a compelling one, but I had a few issues with her telling.

The issue of privilege was the biggest issue at hand; from the time she meets her husband, "privilege" becomes almost a character of its own. Carole doesn't describe her family of origin as having a lot of money, but her transition into a gilded life appeared seamless. Her descriptions of the many events she attends always include the name of the designer of the outfit she wore. She tosses about the maker of the crystal of the wine glasses at the luncheon. Maybe in any story about the rich and famous these are details readers want, but I found them gratuitous. And, no, not all cancer patients can afford to hire Merryl Streep's hair and makeup man to come to the hospital and make a wig to cover a chemo-balding head. Or keep a personal trainer around the house to help speed the recovery after surgery. Does the fact that these tragedies happened to a wealthy person make them any less tragic? I want to say no, but I'm not entirely sure.

Another thing that caught my attention is that I had the feeling that sometimes Radziwill wasn't dishing out the whole story. For instance, as Anthony's health begins a steep decline, Carole talks about falling in love with an antique car she spotted for sale. Really? What is that about? Indeed, I thought there was something missing in her description of her relationship with her husband. I never got a sense that she stayed completely devoted to him and in love throughout his illness. And, this may just possibly be me and my own emotional baggage talking here, but I smelled something fake about Carole's bff relationship with Caroline. If it really was as close as she claims it was, she didn't show it in the book. In fact, when Carole casually drops the bomb that, at Carolyn's urging, she begins to see a therapist, but meanwhile, Caroline has just stopped seeing her own shrink, I thought she sounded petty, slightly hostile and possibly jealous.

The author's best line is, "We create narratives for people because they are simpler than the complexity of real lives." How true! I just wish Radziwill included the complexity in her own narrative.

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