The Summer I Met Jack

THE SUMMER I MET JACK


New York Times bestselling author imagines the affair between JFK and Alicia Corning Clark—and the child they may have had.

Based on a real story—in 1950, a young, beautiful Polish refugee arrives in Hyannisport, Massachusetts to work as a maid for one of the wealthiest families in America. Alicia is at once dazzled by the large and charismatic family, in particular the oldest son, a rising politician named Jack.

Alicia and Jack are soon engaged, but his domineering father forbids the marriage. And so, Alicia trades Hyannisport for Hollywood, and eventually Rome.

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New York Times bestselling author imagines the affair between JFK and Alicia Corning Clark—and the child they may have had.

Based on a real story—in 1950, a young, beautiful Polish refugee arrives in Hyannisport, Massachusetts to work as a maid for one of the wealthiest families in America. Alicia is at once dazzled by the large and charismatic family, in particular the oldest son, a rising politician named Jack.

Alicia and Jack are soon engaged, but his domineering father forbids the marriage. And so, Alicia trades Hyannisport for Hollywood, and eventually Rome. She dates famous actors and athletes and royalty, including Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, and Katharine Hepburn, all the while staying close with Jack. A decade after they meet, on the eve of Jack’s inauguration as the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the two must confront what they mean to each other.

The Summer I Met Jack
 is based on the fascinating real life of Alicia Corning Clark, a woman who J. Edgar Hoover insisted was paid by the Kennedys to keep quiet, not only about her romance with Jack Kennedy, but also a baby they may have had together.

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  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • May 2018
  • 528 Pages
  • 9781250103246

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$27.99

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About Michelle Gable

Michelle GableNew York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. When not dreaming up fiction on the sly, she currently resides in Cardiff by the Sea, California, with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat.

Author Website

Praise

“[The Summer I Met Jack] offers an alternate Kennedy family history that will leave readers wondering whether America knew the real JFK at all.“—Kirkus Reviews

 

Discussion Questions

1. Jewelry plays a symbolic role in The Summer I Met Jack: Alicia’s father’s watch, the necklace Jack gives her, and her engagement ring. What do each of these things represent to Alicia, both individually and taken as a whole?

2. From the beginning, Alicia has a taste for fine clothes and especially fur, even when she can’t afford to dress herself this way. Why? Do you think this speaks more to her early, privileged years, or what she lacked while in the convent and at the camp? Or are her predilections more aspirational in nature? Her vision of “The American Dream”?

3. What might’ve happened to Alicia if she wasn’t so prone to “moving on”? Imagine Alicia in 1970, at age forty. Imagine her in 1985, at fifty-five. How would these versions of Alicia look if she stayed in Hyannis? What about if she stayed in Hollywood?

4. Who did Alicia love most in her lifetime? Jack? Her father? Someone else?

5. Although The Summer I Met Jack is a novel, it is rooted in fact. Did this book at all change your opinion about the Kennedys?

6. Knowing that Jack did have a relationship with Alicia 1951, and, according to the FBI, she was a continued threat ten years later, do you think the author portrayed a realistic version of the significance of their relationship?

7. How might history have been different if Jack had married Alicia? Do you think he would still have been elected President?

8. If Irenka had not told the Kennedys that Alica was a Jew, do you think they would have discovered it on their own? What motivated Irenka to hurt Alicia?

9. Do you believe that Jacqueline Kennedy knew about Alicia and her husband? What about his other mistresses?

10. If Joe Jr. had survived, would he have become President instead of Jack? What would Jack have done for a living?

11. Did Alicia really have Jack Kennedy’s child, or do you think the child truly belonged to Novella?

12. Did Alicia do the right thing with Benedetta? Was this truly out of concern for the child’s welfare, or because she didn’t want to be tied down?

13. Discuss the ways in which both Alicia and Jack were selfish. What other personality traits did they share?

14. Why did Alicia marry Edmund Purdom? What about Alfred Corning Clark? Did she love either one of them?

15. Serena is unsure whether to find out the details of her heritage. Did you understand her reasons? Would you want to find out, even though, as she says, “One gets the impression that sometimes not even the Kennedys want to be Kennedys”?

16. What were your thoughts on the Kennedys’ Hyannisport compound? Is there a regular place you’ve “summered”? Do you find the concept appealing? Would you want to belong to a family that expected you to be certain places, at certain times, like Cape Cod in the summer and Palm Beach for the holidays?

17. Did you have any premonition about the story of Alicia’s childhood, or the fate of her parents, her mother in particular? What were the clues?

18. Do you find Jack attractive? What made him attractive to so many? His looks, his magnetism, or his power and wealth? St. Martin’s Press Discussion Questions

19. Should the bellman, doorman, and lift operator receive the million dollars that Alicia left for each of them?

20. How do you wish Alicia’s story had ended?

Excerpt

APRIL 2016

LOS ANGELES

A man sits on a patio, wrapped in a blanket and staring out to sea. It is cold in California this time of year, though much better than in New York, which is why he winters on this coast. He is old enough to do what he wants. Let someone else worry about logistics at the office, who’s billing what hours, and the clients they should woo. He’s sworn a hundred times he’ll retire. Soon. Very soon.

His secretary comes outside. She wears a blue suit, and blue heels but in a different shade.

“Any luck?” he asks.

She frowns and extends the sealed envelope his way.

“It’s the best I could do,” she says.

The man turns the letter over in his hand, then tosses it onto a nearby table. He should probably ask her to type the address, as the woman’s penmanship resembles that of a teenage girl. If teens wrote things by hand anymore. Oh, who cares. The destination is legible. Good enough.

“It’s fine,” he says, and leans into his chaise, eyes closed. “Thank you.”

The secretary waits for further direction as the envelope flutters in the breeze. Before he meanders off into sleep, she has to ask.

“Do you think it’s true?” she says.

At first, he doesn’t answer. She assumes he’s fallen asleep but, really, he’s taking his time.

“We first met,” he says, causing her to jump, “fifty years ago.”

He opens one eye, and then the other.

“And over the decades she said many things.”

He chuckles through his nose.

Many things,” he repeats. “Outrageous claims were made, some of which would make international news. But as to whether I believe it? I’ve never been able to decide. Not that my opinion matters. The only thing we can do is send the letter and wait for a response.”

 

CRUISING CASANOVAS ARE A BAD RISK

The Boston Daily Globe, August 20, 1950

HYANNIS PORT, MASSACHUSETTS

The government wouldn’t deport her, she didn’t think.

Alicia was unclear on the particulars, but when a person emigrates to the United States under somewhat ill-begotten circumstances, she is not particularly inclined to raise her hand. She was probably safe, because where might they send her? Alicia was no longer a citizen of Poland, and they couldn’t return her to the German camp. This was, she supposed, the upside to her statelessness. To be deported, you needed a home.

For a second, Alicia felt relief. Then she remembered a story she read, about a refugee who’d spent years on a ship, circling the globe, no port willing to let him through, like a crate of damaged goods.

Alicia sent up a quick prayer—or something like it—that Irenka would come through with the job.

“I do vat I can,” she’d said in her choppy, harsh accent. “But no promisink.”

A risky thing, to bet it all on a maid from Poland. But she had no other options on Cape Cod.

At least she had this job, her part-time work at the Center Theatre. She tried to wheedle Mr. Dillon into more hours, but he was rigid as a German.

“You can help George and Dewey during peak times,” he’d said. “That’s all I’m able to offer.”

George was the Center’s projectionist, a spindly man with a swoop of black hair and oversized black-rimmed glasses. Alicia thought the person running films should have better vision, but George seemed to do okay.

Dewey was the counter clerk, though he spent most of his time taking smoke breaks behind the stately brick building, or sometimes right in front, beneath the black and gold awning.

“No more than ten hours per week,” Mr. Dillon said, “and only through the Indian summer.”

“How about twenty?” Alicia countered, having noted Dewey’s lack of industry.

“How about seven?” Mr. Dillon returned.

“But this is the perfect job for me. The first cinema in Poland was built in my hometown, in 1899. My mother was very proud of this. She’d tell any out-of-towner who’d listen!”

When Alicia first stepped inside the Center, her heart sang, for she’d finally, after nearly a year, found something in America that reminded her of home. Though the room was empty at the time, it remained grand with its red velveteen chairs and wide, noble balconies. She could almost hear the whoosh of the curtains and the sound of her mother’s laughter tumbling over time and space.

“We probably saw twenty films a year,” Alicia added. “In the good years, that is.”

“Listen, I don’t have to hire you at all,” Mr. Dillon said, unimpressed with her cinematic background.

“Ten sounds fine,” she’d mumbled, accepting brisk defeat, though this did not stop her from making one last request.

“Can I display my art in the lobby?” she asked. “You see, I’m a painter—”

“Do whatever the hell you want,” Mr. Dillon said. “As long as it doesn’t bother the customers. Or me.”

As luck would have it, Mr. Dillon spent most of his time managing the Hyannis Theatre, over on the swankier side of town. Alicia was glad she’d picked the Center. Mr. Dillon wasn’t apt to let a homeless Pole display her work on the glitzy west end.

Alicia stepped behind the counter. She could probably leave, as these were hardly “peak hours.” Sunday matinees rarely were. In her brain, Alicia added up the time she’d worked that week. Should she push it to eleven hours, or twelve?

Alicia crouched down and slid one row of Boston Beans flush with another. The display looked sharp, artful almost. She let herself feel proud, and wished she could show Irenka.

“You vant to clean?” her friend had shirked when Alicia showed up on her doorstep last week, fresh off the bus from Oklahoma City.

“I don’t want to clean per se,” Alicia told her, “but being a maid would tide me over…”

“A maid! Bah! You cannot do maid! You terrible wit cleanink!”

Maybe so, but Alicia didn’t plan to sweep floorboards for the rest of her life, and she could fake it well enough, for now.

“You still selling?” asked a voice.

Alicia jumped up. She shook her head, and the room blurred.

“Oh! Yes! Sorry!” she said, the man’s Boston accent prickling the hairs on her neck. “I thought everyone was inside.”

When Alicia caught eyes with the guest, everything inside her body seized. Before her stood a man, tall and tanned, with mussed reddish-brown hair and an untucked white shirt. He grinned, corner to corner, eyes crinkling at the edges.

“Wow, I must’ve really thrown ya,” the man said.

“I apologize,” Alicia said, panicked. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to be out here. The second showing of the movie just began. If you hurry, you won’t miss a minute. It’s In the Foreign Legion.

As if he couldn’t read the marquee. Mentally, Alicia rolled her eyes.

“Yeah. I know how it works,” he said. “Stahrting from two fifteen, continuous. I prefer to sneak in late.”

He pushed a chunk of hair from his forehead, and Alicia found herself mimicking the gesture. He caught this, and winked, causing Alicia to jolt once more.

It wasn’t the man’s handsomeness. He was attractive, no question, but he was also gangly, too thin. His hair was bushy and his head preposterously oversized compared to his reedy frame. Any objective poll would place his looks well below Ty Power’s or William Holden’s, yet there remained something special about him, something beautiful that had little to do with actual presentation.

But, yes, okay, he was handsome, and tan, and had one hell of a smile.

“So, you didn’t answer my question,” he said. “Are you still open?”

“You mean for refreshments?”

He laughed.

Holy snakes, the man had intensely straight and white teeth.

“Yes, what else?” he said. “Then again, maybe you can think of another reason I might want to hang out here?”

He said “here” as if it were two syllables instead of one. He-ah.

“Oh, er,” Alicia stuttered. “There’s not much else to do, aside from order refreshments.”

“You must be new,” he said. “I’d surely remembah your face.”

Alicia blushed furiously and reached for a cup.

“Will that be a large?” she said.

“I didn’t place an order.”

“Asking ‘What size?’ is a much better sales tactic than ‘May I help you?’”

“Well, I’m a suckah for a good saleswoman,” he said. “So, I’ll have a large Coke, as suggested.”

“You’ve got it.”

Alicia flipped around and began to fill his cup, wondering how it’d become so hot in that room. She fanned herself with a flattened popcorn box.

“By the way,” the man said. “My name’s Jack. Jack Kennedy.”

“Kennedy?” Alicia blurted.

He was one of them—the family Irenka picked up after, the family Alicia hoped would employ her, too.

According to Irenka, there were some ten, twelve of them, maybe more. The father was a former ambassador; the kids all grown. The mother was penurious, and a tad odd, though Irenka held her in high esteem.

In her letters and in person, Irenka recounted stories about this crew, and their scrapes and shenanigans. They stole cars, broke limbs, and swiped food off one another’s plates. The Cape was flooded with their unpaid bills, and the house was often flooded for real, as the family seemed unable to remember when they’d left a faucet running.

They were a family of slobs, Irenka claimed. They left their towels and bathing costumes strewn about the house.

“Worse dan pigs on farm,” she insisted.

But Irenka must’ve been mistaken. Jack was in his shirtsleeves, and his trousers hung like old drapes, but Alicia couldn’t imagine that anyone would consider him slovenly.

“Aw, hell,” Jack moaned, “look at that expression. And you said ‘Kennedy’ like it was a swear word.”

Sway-er. As he spoke, Alicia realized that while Jack had a Boston accent, his was different from those she’d already heard. It was the rhythm of his speech, and how it sped up, and then slowed. Sometimes his words pushed, and other times, they pulled.

“Kennedy,” said like he was racing toward something.

“Swear,” like he wanted the word to last all night.

“Judging by your reaction,” he said, “I assume you’ve had the great misfortune of meeting my brother, Teddy.”

Alicia thought for a minute, mind clicking through Irenka’s tales. Teddy, he was the fat one, the youngest. He was prone to problems with boats.

“Teddy,” the Ambassador once said, “if you leave with the boat, you come back with the boat.”

“I’ve never met your brother,” Alicia said. “But I’ve … heard some stories.”

Jack snorted.

“I’ll bet. Please don’t judge our entire family by that one.”

Alicia smiled weakly.

“I’m sure you’re all lovely,” she said.

Jack threw back his head and cackled.

“Said by someone who’s obviously never met us. Listen, I hate to point out the obvious, but you haven’t told me your name. Sort of makes me feel like I’m doin’ all the work.”

“Oh. Yes.” She exhaled. “I’m Alicia. Alicia Darr.”

Jack grinned, wide as the heavens, and extended a hand across the counter. Alicia brought hers to meet it.

Enchantée,” she said, inexplicably.

Alicia blushed yet again. French, of all things. She was at the Center Theatre in Hyannis, Massachusetts, not the damned Sorbonne. Maybe she should switch to German, to show him how many languages she knew.

Enchantée indeed,” Jack said. “Your accent is perfection. Where do you go to school?”

“I don’t.”

Jack scrunched his perfectly shaped nose.

“You don’t attend school?” he said.

“I do not. The popcorn is delicious, have you tried some?”

“But you’re not old enough to have graduated college.”

“What’s old enough?” she said. “In any case, I started out with lofty plans but didn’t make it to university. The war, you know.”

She looked away.

“Ah. I should’ve guessed. You’re European.”

“Am I?”

Alicia was not being coy. “European” was usually reserved for those from Paris, or Vienna, possibly Hamburg, worst case. She was from Poland, which most would regard as decidedly “Eastern Bloc.”

Legally, though, Alicia wasn’t from anywhere, “stateless” as her documents showed, her current home a mattress inside Irenka’s closet. A person couldn’t get much more displaced than that.

“So, you moved around?” Jack said with a wince. “Separated from family and friends?”

“Something like that.”

He sighed, then blubbered his lips.

“Those Nazis. They were no fucking fun.”

Alicia coughed out an astonished laugh, amused or deeply offended, either one.

Abruptly, Jack jerked his head toward something that’d caught his eye.

“You guys selling art now?” he asked.

“Oh. Um. Yes. It’s something Mr. Dillon is trying out.”

“Huh.” He shrugged. “Well. Neat painting.”

“Thank you?” Alicia said, craning past his (large, large) head.

He was inspecting a watercolor of Piotrkowska Street, Alicia’s former home. Even though she’d created it, and studied it a hundred times, her heart sputtered as she took in the avenue’s baroque buildings and its curled lampposts, restaurants, and shops.

“You painted that?”

Jack turned her way, one brow cocked.

“I did.” Alicia nodded. “It’s one of the prettiest streets in Europe. It was one of the prettiest streets. There’s no telling what it looks like now. Well, enjoy your drink and the film. That’ll be thirty cents.”

“Anxious to move me on, are ya?”

He narrowed his green-gray gaze and leaned further over the counter.

“There’s something familyah about you,” he said. “We’ve met before. Have you been working here all summer?”

“No, I only started a few days ago. Do you need napkins? That will be thirty cents. As I mentioned.”

“Really? A few days? Then surely you were here last summer.”

He drummed his fingers on the countertop.

“You worked at the club? Teaching sailing? Tennis?”

“No, sir, not at all.” Alicia wrested a napkin from its silver holder. “I’ve been in Hyannis less than a week. You should take one of these to your seat. Your drink will sweat thanks to the humidity. That’ll be thirty cents.”

“Only a week?” Jack said, appearing pinched. “That can’t be right. I swear we’ve met before. You are so familiar and your face … well, it’s unforgettable.”

“You are mistaken,” she said, staring at the floor.

Alicia could feel Jack’s eyes on her as surely as she could feel the sun when she stepped outside.

“I’d like to get your number,” he said.

Alicia glanced up.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“I’d like to take you out.”

He reached into his pockets, but came up empty.

“You said you’re new here, so I’d like to show you the Cape,” Jack said, and picked up a receipt left by another customer. “Here, write down your number.”

“My numbah?”

She had not meant to parrot his voice.

“I’m staying with a friend,” she explained quickly.

“I’d be happy to meet her, too,” he said, a glimmer in his eyes.

Alicia gave a hoarse chuckle.

“I don’t know that you would be,” she said. “Happy to meet her, that is.”

“Wow,” Jack said. “You’re really making me work for it, aren’t ya?”

Alicia snagged the slip of paper, and scribbled Irenka’s information, hand quivering.

“It was fantastic to meet you, Miss Darr,” Jack said.

He took the paper and rewarded Alicia with one last smile.

“Hope to see you again, very soon,” he said.

Then Jack winked, and turned to go.

“That’ll be thirty cents!” Alicia called out. “You still owe for the Coke!”

Jack spun around.

“Thirty cents?” he repeated. “That seems steep.”

Alicia shrugged.

“It says right here on the sign, thirty cents for a jumbo.”

“I thought it was a large?”

“I’m fairly convinced you said jumbo.”

“I don’t have any money on me,” he said, without checking to be sure.

“Then you’ll have to return the soda.”

He closed his eyes and laughed.

“Don’t worry, Alicia Darr. I’m good for it. You can put it on my account.”

Before she could protest, or take possession of the drink, Jack vanished through the double doors. Alicia stood motionless, her body roiling with a great mixture of emotions. She was discombobulated, bewildered, and a little charmed. All that and poorer, given she was now thirty cents in the hole.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michelle Gable