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July 16, 1999. Forever ago. And yesterday: John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife, and her sister die in a plane crash. In two decades, he’s become an icon, a myth. Christina Haag writes a book that delivers the man.
The longtime girlfriend of John F. Kennedy, Jr. — a woman he should have married, and didn’t — writes a book about their long friendship, glorious romance, and fraught break-up.
On the plus side: Her memory is buttressed by decades of journals, and she makes a good-girl’s effort to tell the truth.
On the minus side: She’s an actress, that is, a woman most at home when not herself. And he was the stud muffin of a generation, an athlete dying young; you do not write ill of such a man.
What are the odds that Christina Haag could write a better-than-average memoir about her life with John Kennedy?
They met as teenagers, in that special Upper East Side hothouse of private schools and privilege. They were not exactly equals — her father was the son of a railroad foreman, and his father was… well, you know. But he was skinny and exuberant, fond of flipping water balloons out the windows of Fifth Avenue apartments, and she was dark and poetic, a budding actress. They hung out, walking through the park at night, Secret Service agents following.
They both go to Brown, where they share a house. (Another roommate is Christiane Amanpour, then known as “Kissy.”) Like dogs, they travel in packs; they see a lot of one another, but romance never ignites. After graduation, Christina takes up with a fellow actor — Bradley Whitford, later a mainstay on “The West Wing” — and John bounces from woman to woman.
And then they connect.
Yes, she writes that first kiss like a romance novelist, but why not? They’d known each other for almost a decade, the pent-up curiosity was huge, and — not a small point — that kiss was electrifying. It sealed the deal.
Young love. Such intensity. And such drama. John is fidelity-challenged — shades of you know who. And Christina is intent on an acting career, which means extended time in Los Angeles. Add to that that he’s made a wrong turn — he wanted to be an actor, but chose law school because he felt the tug of the family business. When it’s like that, it doesn’t really matter how kind, funny, caring and handsome someone is.
Haag traces the beats of the relationship, the quiet weekends, the exciting trips, the glittering family time. She doesn’t pump it up, she just lays it out, holding out memories like jewels. “How lucky I was to have had all this,” she says, between the lines, but she has it wrong — how lucky he was to have had her.
Daryl Hannah shows up, and others, and there’s a lot of making up and breaking up. “He’ll leave you, one day he’ll leave you,” Bradley Whitford tells her, but that’s wrong. Had they continued, Christina would have discovered that her resemblance to John’s mother was superficial — she couldn’t put up with the cheating.
What’s best about the book, for many readers, I suspect, is that it’s the first credible portrait of John Kennedy, Jr. He’s not that smart. He’s had no father. His mother terrifies him. He doesn’t have the courage to stand up to his family and declare his interest in acting. In a word, he’s lost. And so he throws himself into extreme sports and blood-tingling hook-ups — anything to feel the vitality of his own life. His death seals him as a tragic figure, but some kind of bad end was inevitable. Tragedy was his birthright. The poor bastard was doomed.
Christina Haag is now… older. She’s not a star, she’s had some bad bounces. But she has a sweet spirit, a generous character. I can see — and so will you — what John Kennedy Jr. saw in her. And what he threw away.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler.
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