1975 proved to be a pivotal year for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Widowed for the second time in her life, her future role in life seemed unclear. Most of her adult life had been spent fulfilling her role as a good wife, first as an aspiring politician’s wife, then eventually as First Lady. A few years later, she entered into a troubled seven year marriage with billionaire tycoon Aristotle Onassis. With her daughter living abroad post-graduation and her son in boarding school around the time of Onassis’s death, the jet setting forty-six-year-old was finally free to do whatever she wanted. And what she wanted, it turned out, was to get a job.
Although Tina Cassidy’s Jackie After O is supposed to focus on the life-altering changes following Aristotle Onassis’s death, I quickly discovered that about two-thirds of the book seems to be focused on Jackie before O. But you know what? Ultimately, that turned out to be okay with me. Rather than write an exhaustive biography on Jackie O’s life, Cassidy instead chose a nonlinear narrative that focused on a handful of specific roles Jackie O played in the years leading up to 1975. By limiting the scope of background information on Jackie O’s life, Cassidy managed to keep the subjects fresh and interesting.
One of the roles I enjoyed reading the most about was that of Jackie as a preservationist. Thanks in large part to a television broadcast she hosted while she was still First Lady, many are aware of her role in restoring the White House, which had fallen into disrepair by the time Kennedy took office. Many are also aware of her hand in creating the Camelot myth and preserving the Kennedy legacy. Cassidy addresses this, but also discusses Jackie’s hand in other important restoration projects, such as the rebuilding of Lafayette Square across from the White House, and, many years later, the fight to keep Grand Central in New York from being torn down.
Considering her famous pedigree, getting a job seemed like the last thing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis should have wanted to do. Women were entering the workforce in record numbers, but women of her stature were expected to remain content as wealthy socialites. She took the leap and landed a job as a consulting editor at Viking, and though many employees there expected to do all the heavy lifting, Jackie surprised them all by throwing herself into her work. It was a career she ended up loving and staying in until her untimely death nearly twenty years later.
Although I would have liked the book to reflect the title a little better by focusing more on the importance of 1975, I still think Cassidy did a commendable job of presenting her information. Dozens of books have been written about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Cassidy was smart to stay away from writing a straightforward biography. Instead, the roles she chose to highlight nicely set the stage for her main arguments. It was an interesting angle from which to view such a fascinating woman.
Jackie After O: One Remarkable Year When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Defied Expectations and Rediscovered Her Dreams was released on May 1, 2012 by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.