Blanche’s Book Club: ‘What Remains’.

I stayed up until almost 1am finishing the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club, “What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love” by Carole Radziwill.

I’m going to jump right in since it’s so fresh on my mind, and well, I’ve got a lot on my mind! Here is the book’s description from Amazon:

A stunning, tragic memoir about John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bissett, and his cousin Anthony Radziwill, by Radziwill’s widow, now a star of The Real Housewives of New York.

What Remains is a vivid and haunting memoir about a girl from a working-class town who becomes an award-winning television producer and marries a prince, Anthony Radziwill. Carole grew up in a small suburb with a large, eccentric cast of characters. At nineteen, she struck out for New York City to find a different life. Her career at ABC News led her to the refugee camps of Cambodia, to a bunker in Tel Aviv, and to the scene of the Menendez murders. Her marriage led her into the old world of European nobility and the newer world of American aristocracy.

What Remains begins with loss and returns to loss. A small plane plunges into the ocean carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., Anthony’s cousin, and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Carole’s closest friend. Three weeks later Anthony dies of cancer. With unflinching honesty and a journalist’s keen eye, Carole Radziwill explores the enduring ties of family, the complexities of marriage, the importance of friendship, and the challenges of self-invention. Beautifully written,What Remains “gets at the essence of what matters,” wrote Oprah Winfrey. “Friendship, compassion, destiny.”

A few years ago, I went on a HUNT for this book. I have always loved Carole on “The Real Housewives of New York City” and I wanted to read her books. Since this was the first one, I wanted to read it first.

It wasn’t at the library (they didn’t carry it), and it wasn’t at my nearest Half Price Books, but when I asked about it, it was supposedly at a nearby store.

So, I went there and searched… and I couldn’t find it. I asked for help and even the employee couldn’t find it. I gave up on it that day, and just kept it on a list and looked for it anytime I went to Half Price Books.

In the meantime, I read Carole’s other book, “The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating” and I loved it. Eventually, I ended up finding this copy of the book during a sale at Half Price.

And… it sat on my bookshelf for at least a year. Given the nature of this book, I knew it would have to be the right time to read it. And, I don’t necessarily know if this was the right time, but I know if I would have read it two years ago — before cancer became such a nasty word in my vocabulary — I probably wouldn’t have understood so much of the pain of this book.

There are parts of this book that aren’t about cancer. It is very much a story about friendship and love, and it is beautifully written. But another sad portion of this book is about John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash.

I remember hearing about it in the news, and I’ll admit it was almost haunting to read about it from the perspective of the person that got that late night call when the plane, nor the bodies, could be found.

Even today, nearly 20 years after the plane crash, there are many theories as to what happened, given that it was such a short and familiar flight. In the book, Carole’s hypothesis is a fairly common happening among small-plane pilots flying at night – the blur of the plane’s dashboard gets confused for a landmark, one sharp turn leads to the “Graveyard Corkscrew” and that is nearly impossible to correct.

The plane crash killed JFK Jr., who was Carole’s husband’s cousin. It also killed JFK Jr’s wife (Carole’s best friend), and her sister. Less than a month later, Carole’s husband died from cancer.

This book was tragic — I sobbed. Most of the book happens in the mid-to-late 90’s, a time when cancer hadn’t yet forced itself into movies and YA novels. The rawness in which Carole shares her experience is moving.

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

Most people aren’t doing anything special when the carefully placed edges of their life break apart.

The night is all twinkles and light and sparkle. The tinkling of crystal, trickles of laughter, silver clinking on porcelain.

Our summer days, for many years, were deceptively simple, but everything is different played back on the sober screen of adulthood.

I took from Kingston an attitude I am still able to summon, though I do so less frequently: The heady, youthful buzz of beginnings and possibilities. Like Hemingway’s Pans. The times we came to life.

There had been times in the city at Tante’s, or dancing in Linda’s basement, or fishing off the dock in Kingston, that I was excited with what life had given me. Times I felt perfectly complete. Then I left all of that. I went too far to go back, but I didn’t know that until I was grasping for something familiar and safe and there wasn’t anything for me to hold on to.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves memoirs, and particularly to anyone who’s lost someone to cancer.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “What If It’s Us” by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera.

I’m working from bed today — propped up working on a design project — and I’ve started watching season two of “Friends”. Not a bad day!

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