Hidden away for decades, Rosemary Kennedy has become a symbol for WASP-y secrets, inspiration porn, gender equity, and disability studies. In Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, Kate Clifford Larson lays out the series of events that led up to her fateful operation and later death, set against the backdrop of American politics and Camelot’s myriad tragedies.
Much of Rosemary feels more like a biography of the entire Kennedy clan than a focused study of its most tragic figure. Political endeavors at home and abroad, the travels of Rosemary’s siblings, and the United States’ economic ups and downs all feature prominently. Larson’s digressions, while informative, occasionally leave the reader to wonder if they are necessary to understanding her subject’s life.
Where Rosemary succeeds, it excels. Larson’s presentation of Joe Kennedy’s obsession with achievement grows increasingly ominous as Rosemary’s behavioral problems and social blunders come to light, but readers close the book knowing that he did not intentionally destroy his daughter’s mind. Although that doesn’t make the Kennedys’ rejection and abandonment of their daughter and sister any less painful to read, it does present Rosemary’s case as complex, marred by social mores and demands.
Rosemary could easily have been a sensationalist exposé of an American tragedy. Instead, Larson remains steadfast and respectful throughout, which results in an unputdownable read about a light snuffed out.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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