Most readers will be familiar with Caroline Preston’s latest novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. However, don’t let her first novel, Jackie by Josie, slip past your reading radar.
Book groups looking for a discussable summer selection will enjoy this light-hearted look at the business of biography. Jackie is a doctoral student suffering a bout of writer’s block/boredom when she’s offered a summer position as a researcher to a celebrity biographer of the trash-n-tell genre of life stories who is writing a book on the recently deceased Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie jumps at it and leaves her distracted academic husband, Peter, to go on his own summer jaunt with a flirty grad student who makes Jackie nervous. Jackie bundles up their three-year-old, Henry, and moves in with her boozy mother for the summer.
Jackie starts doing the kind of research that would never get tenure in an academic setting. She’s staring at photographs of Jacqueline and making notes on fashion and hair styles and studying seating arrangements for White House dinner parties.
Preston stretches a bit to make connections between Josie’s life in the mid-1990s and Jackie’s in the 1960s and ’70s. But that shouldn’t keep book groups from enjoying the book and finding topics to mull over. For one, they should consider the vast amount of information that goes into crafting a biography and how a writer sorts through it all to find the essence of the subject matter. Readers can also discuss the various epigrams that appear before each chapter and how they reflect Josie’s current situation and how Jackie may have changed her own mind about some of the things she said when she was younger.
Cleverly masquerading as standard fluorescent-colored Chick Lit, there’s more to this novel of a young woman’s life and quirky relationships than a reader will predict.