“Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie” by Carly Simon, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)
After reading Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie, musician Carly Simon’s new memoir about her eleven year relationship with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the question is if the notoriously private former first lady would still consider her a friend. Though not a full-fledged gossipy tell-all, Simon devotes a lot of the book to describing the pain Onassis experienced from being one of the most famous people in the world and the lengths she went to to lead a quiet and private life, and then Simon proceeds to turn their friendship into a public affair. The reader is left to wonder what her motivations were to write this book.
Simon and Onassis where introduced by John Kennedy Jr. in 1983 on Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island known for its famous and well-to-do residents. Over the next several years, they became friends, but “not what [Simon] was used to in a friendship: close contact, sharing of pain and issues of love and loss.” According to her, that would come later after they began working together on a children’s book. It seems their relationship was a bit lopsided with Simon opening up more to Onassis, who never really seems to let down her guard, even with a so-called close friend. In an interview about the book, Simon states that there were many details she did not include, so maybe Onassis did talk more intimately about her own loves and losses, but Simon, out of respect for her privacy, did not share those stories. However, that seems unlikely since she has no problem sharing details about other famous friends’ personal lives, so the likely scenario is that their relationship was not equal in its intensity.
Simon gives a hint to her fascination with Onassis when she writes “No one is more interested in famous people than other famous people,” and it is the stories of the rich and famous that make this an interesting read. One fun episode she shares is when she sets up Onassis on a double date with Alec Baldwin. Simon, her husband, Onassis and Baldwin meet at Simon’s home for dinner before heading out to the theater, all wearing ridiculous wigs in order to go undercover and avoid the furor that follows Onassis wherever she goes. The book begins with Simon recounting a lunch date where Onassis is uncharacteristically late because, as we find out, she was stuck in an elevator, and ends with an intimate story about her on her death bed.
Simon is not a novice author, having written another memoir, Boys in the Trees, the children’s books she worked on with Onassis, and a deep catalog of songs including “Your So Vain” and “Anticipation.” Feelings of intrusion aside, this is an interesting and well-written memoir that shares personal stories from someone close to and deeply in awe of a fascinating cultural icon.
Katherine Arends is the Branch Manager at the Mebane Public Library and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.