“Tragedy whores.” We aren’t fond of this term. Carole Radziwill pins it to the reader and that judgment makes the story she wants to tell you about Carolyn and John Kennedy, Jr. uncomfortable to read, like watching The Real Housewives of New York City. Theirs isn’t even the compelling story. Radziwill’s fixation on the Kennedy’s story distracts from hers, the brutal story of a fairy tale marriage cut short by cancer. Fortunately, that story is also redeemingly contained within the pages of What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love.

What Remains is Radziwill’s memoir about how she moved to New York City from a working-class town to become a journalist and television producer when she meets and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. As a non-royal American nobody, fitting into both European and American aristocracy proves a challenge. Complicating that stress is a cancer that invades, as Radziwill puts it, right on schedule. The strong parts of this book describe what it feels like to be a caretaker and not a bride, the guilt of selfish feelings when unflinching selflessness is required, the feelings of loss that come long before a death. We appreciate the story about how Anthony’s family and friends do their part for the doomed effort to escape cancer, including hijinks to keep each other feeling vital. Unfortunately, John Kennedy, Jr.’s plane crash not only frames, but also casts a shadow upon what should feature Anthony Radziwill.

Radziwill is a good storyteller and the reader gets the feeling this book was composed from stacks of journalistic notes, but she should have written two books — one to wallow in the tabloid story proving she was friends with the Kennedys and feeding her tragedy whores and another to tell this gut-wrencher of a story about young love with no possibility that you can’t put down. We recommend reading this book but skipping over the unnecessary stories Radziwill shares about Carolyn Bessette’s childhood. If “tragedy whore” were a term we’d use, we’d say Radziwill was doing that with Carolyn’s story. We’d also gloss over the Kennedy couple’s funeral, which Radziwill describes as the hottest ticket in town and again implicating the reader as a tragedy whore for learning this information. We would reread Radziwill’s depiction of her complicated feelings, her conflicting desire to do one thing while restricted to doing another, the oppression of the family and her admiration of her husband — in fact, we’d like to read more about that last bit.

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love
by Carole Radziwill
Scribner, 2005

Post author Rebecca Ballenger is a wannabe Internet practitioner, subtly charming public school advocate and amateur communicator who asks too many questions and writes mostly about books at RebL Nation.