The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years
More than fifty years after his untimely death, John F. Kennedy still fascinates us. Frederick Turner’s The Go-Between is a particularly intriguing story about Kennedy and his inner circle, a web of clandestine relationships that remained unacknowledged during the politician’s lifetime. In 1977 Judith Campbell Exner published an account of her role as Kennedy’s mistress while he was running for president and for a short time thereafter. Her surprising revelations titillated the public, exposing a facet of Kennedy that most journalists had steadfastly ignored. Not only was Judith Campbell intimately involved with the candidate, but she also served as a go-between, a courier who delivered unexplained and unexamined packets to often unsavory characters.
Turner chooses to fictionalize Campbell’s testimonial. Just as no one knows the exact truth about Campbell’s expose, so no one knows precisely what she was thinking when she was being courted by Kennedy and then when she was being used as his emissary. Turner solves this conundrum by imagining a male, middle-aged, down-on-his-luck reporter who gains access to some of Campbell’s diaries. This reporter has a distinct point-of-view—harsh, flippant, and nosy. While reading diary excerpts, and while reconstructing Campbell and Kennedy’s times together, he also is trying to understand this woman of mystery. He can’t, of course, but he knows he can’t, and that’s part of the allure of The Go-Between. What this reporter discovers, and especially how he interprets that information, is key to this highly speculative novel.
Judith Campbell apparently was drop-dead gorgeous, as sexy as Elizabeth Taylor according to Eddie Fisher. Traveling with the Rat Pack for awhile, she had a short-lived affair with Frank Sinatra. The singer then introduced her to Jack Kennedy, who was enchanted. For a couple of years, the two met secretly as often as possible. Only after Kennedy became president did the affair cool off. According to her diaries, the presidency changed the man. Judith was feeling more and more distance between them, but total separation only occurred after J. Edgar Hoover brought pressure on both Kennedy brothers. Judith suddenly was discarded completely, left on her own with only memories to sustain her.
Those memories involved not only her love for Jack Kennedy but also her involvement in carrying documents and dollars to men like Sam Giancana, a mobster who also was personally involved with Judith. As The Go-Between develops, the reporter/narrator moves from speculation about what she was carrying—and why—to speculation about Judith’s motivations. I found this abstraction to be the most original phase of the novel. What on earth was going on in this woman’s head? Mistress to a mobster, presidential lover, paramour to any number of other famous men, transporter of obviously illicit materials. What was she thinking?
Turner’s journalist ultimately decides that Judith retained her “virginality.” Nothing touched the inner Judith. Idealistic, romantic, psychologically innocent in a naïve sort of way, Judith held herself aloof from her escapades in ways that the men around her never understood. Or so Turner’s narrator assumes. Whether he is correct or not is up to the reader to decide. Suffice to say that The Go-Between is a provocative twist on the Kennedy mythology. Any reader who remembers Camelot will find this novel a tantalizing corrective. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Frederick Turner: Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of Tropic of Cancer; Redemption; In the Land of Temple Caves: Notes on Art and the Human Spirit; 1929 A Novel of the Jazz Age; When the Boys Came Back, Baseball and 1946; Remembering Song: Encounters with the New Orleans Jazz Tradition; A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf of Mexico from the Keys to the Yucatan; Of Chiles, Cacti and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West; Spirit of Place: The Making of an American Landscape; Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours; Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness; The Viking North American Indian Reader (ed); Geronimo, His Own Story.