Lauren Baratz Logsted here again, with talk of the mysterious Apache Woman
What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love, Carole Radziwill. This book is a good companion piece to Joan Didionâ€™s National Book Award winner, The Year of Magical Thinking. Ms. Radziwill is the wife of the late Anthony Radziwill, who died after a long battle with cancer in 1999. His death was the predictable one. What was less predictable was that his cousin, for whom he was best man and who was his best man at their respective weddings, a man by the name of John F. Kennedy Jr., should predecease him by three weeks when the plane he was piloting plunged into the water, also killing his wife Carolyn Bessette, the authorâ€™s best friend, and Carolynâ€™s sister Lauren. Both Ms. Didion and Ms. Radziwill have had their books, between the lauds, tarred for being too coolly written, but I would say that those readers are mistaking the taut restraint of true grief when one is trying to maintain sanity for emotional distance. In the case of Ms. Radziwill, the charge has further been leveled that sheâ€™s no better than the â€œtragedy whoresâ€ she decries. Again, I would countercharge: Doesnâ€™t she have a right to tell her own story?
Thereâ€™s a wonderful passage in one of Dominick Dunneâ€™s novels where a tragedy occurs in the home of a wealthy family and someone tells the young boy of the house something to the effect that, â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter what tragedies befall you. People will always say, â€˜I wish I had his problemsâ€™.â€ And, indeed, this has always seemed to me to be the way the Kennedys are regarded: like theyâ€™re the luckiest people in the world for having all that money and power, and that itâ€™s a mere incidental price that so many of them seem to die in such tragic circumstances.
And in Ms. Radziwillâ€™s book thereâ€™s also a wonderful passage. When Anthony Radziwill, having been in denial for many years about his disease but applying for a new job at HBO, feels impelled to tell the producer, â€œI have cancer,â€ to which she replies, â€œSo what? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.â€
Itâ€™s a wonderful line but it is also of course an awful line and a prophetic one at that: Anthony got cancer; John got hit by a bus.
Itâ€™s a peculiar thing, how we come to feel we know people weâ€™ve seen on TV or read about in the newspapers but never talked to. Sometimes, we even have personal anecdotes to share about them, even if once removed.
Back when I was a student at UCONN, there was a somewhat wild girl who lived on the same floor whose nickname was Apache Woman. One weekend, Apache Woman took the bus to see our soccer team play Brown University. She went because Mr. Kennedy was a member of Brownâ€™s team and she wanted to meet him. Somehow, she found where he lived and when he arrived home after the game, she was waiting for him. â€œYouâ€™reâ€¦youâ€™reâ€¦youâ€™reâ€¦â€ Suddenly, this loquacious girl whoâ€™d never lost a word, was thunderstruck. When she at last found her voice, it all came out in a rush: â€œOmigod, youâ€™re J-J-J-John, J-J-J-John, J-J-J-John F. Kennedy Jr.! Iâ€™ve wanted to meet you forever! My sister wanted to meet Joe Namath and last year she got to but youâ€™re the only person Iâ€™ve ever wanted to meet andâ€¦andâ€¦andâ€¦omigod, itâ€™s you!â€ And more of the same. Mr. Kennedy didnâ€™t do what most of the other college guys I knew back then would have done; he didnâ€™t kick her sorry ass out or try to jump her bones. Instead, he invited her in, sat her down, gave her a drink of water and then just talked to her calmly until she was sane enough to get back on her bus. I remember thinking at the time, and have thought since, that there was a lot of grace in his behavior that most of us simply donâ€™t have.
And, despite that of the four main people in this book â€“ Ms. Radziwill, Anthony, Carolyn and John â€“ heâ€™s glimpsed on the fewest pages, he emerges as such a charismatic figure, itâ€™s absolutely heartbreaking to think of what might have been, and I defy any reader to take in the passage where he sings his dying cousin a song theyâ€™d learned in their childhood about a bear and walk away with a dry eye.
â€œLife Changes fast,â€ Joan Didion writes. â€œLife changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.â€ This is the story Ms. Radziwill tells too â€“ the story of life changing, ending in an instant â€“ but she also tells the story about a person, her husband, dying by inches. In neither womanâ€™s book, neither Ms. Didionâ€™s nor Ms. Radziwillâ€™s, is self-pity anywhere on evidence.