PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

This Gossipy Novel Looks at the Kennedy-Mafia 'Go-Between', Judith Campbell

John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Mafia boss Sam Giancana show up as characters in this gossipy novel about Judith Campbell, the mysterious woman who allegedly had affairs with each of them.


The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 336 pages
Author: Frederick Turner
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-05
Amazon

Gossip and literary fiction rarely mix well. Truman Capote tried to build his last novel, Answered Prayers out of gossip, and though he never finished the work, the few chapters he published made enemies out of many long time friends. 'That dirty little toad is never coming to my parties again', was a typical response from the jet set. Saul Bellow tried a similar approach in his final novel Ravelstein, and the resulting controversy forced him to rewrite portions of the text.

In The Go-Between, Frederick Turner might well run the same risk -- and may be saved from threats and accusations only because most of the real life characters he chronicles are already dead. Turner focuses here on the late Judith Campbell (1934-1999), best known as the woman who had overlapping affairs with President John F. Kennedy and mob boss Sam Giancana. Along the way, Campbell was also involved with Frank Sinatra and crossed paths with a number of other famous figures from the world of politics and entertainment.

If her involvement with the rich and famous had merely been a matter of bedroom etiquette, Campbell might have escaped public notoriety. But Campbell’s activities eventually took her into murky legal situations that caught the attention of the FBI, and later an investigative committee led by Idaho Senator Fred Church. When called to testify in 1975, Campbell denied that she had been a courier between the White House and the Mafia, but shortly before her death she admitted to serving as a go-between when Kennedy and Giancana plotted an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro -- a role that provides both the title and central story of Turner’s novel.

No shortage of fireworks here, obviously. However, if Turner appears to have drawn his story line from the tabloid press, his approach in The Go-Between will defy any expectations that our author is interested in dishing the dirt. Instead of kiss-and-tell, we get a very acute psychological novel, one that probes deeply into motives and misgivings, and never settles for the merely tawdry. At times while reading this novel, I was half-convinced that the author was playing an elaborate trick on his readers -- enticing them onward with promises of juicy disclosures, but then delivering sober soul-searching.

The Go-Between begins with a down-and-out newspaper reporter stumbling upon Judy Campbell’s unpublished diaries. He has dreams of a huge publishing advance and a runaway bestseller, as he tries to reconstruct a complex web of events and relationships involving the leading public figures of the late-]50s and early '60s. His researches take him on the posthumous trail of the beautiful woman whose innocent enthusiasm for the young Senator from Massachusetts, then in the early stages of his presidential campaign, turned her into a pawn in a high stakes game beyond her ability to control or even comprehend.

The conventional view of Campbell is of a shrewd operator, able to manipulate the high and mighty in advancing her own interests. Turner reverses this story, presenting a young woman whose very naiveté destroys her life. When the President asks her to deliver some papers to a mob boss, she agrees with the confidence that she is doing something to serve her country’s best interests. But her efforts as a go-between attract the interest of J. Edgar Hoover, and soon she finds that her lover might be the most powerful man in the United States, yet he is either unwilling or unable to protect her from harassment and bullying from the FBI. She seeks help from Sam Giancana, but that type of protection also comes at a cost and even greater risk.

At times, Turner’s prose seems ready to collapse into clichés. His concept of how a journalist talks often comes across as anachronistic, more akin to the dialogue from a '20s pulp fiction tale than anything you might find in a modern-day newsroom. Yet just when you might have given up on our author, he will deliver a series of insights into the inner life of Judith Campbell that are so acute that they transcend the fictional setting and will set you wondering about the real life woman who inspired this novel.

So you may come to this book enticed by the gossip, but you will finish it with deeper matters on your mind. Turner will leave you caring deeply about Judith Campbell, and considering her more as a tragic figure than as a famous “kept” woman. More to the point, you will also be left mulling the type of political and social environment that could produce a story of these dimensions. That may be the greatest achievement of The Go-Between -- namely the author’s ability to dazzle you with the glamour and power of life at the top, but also leave you reeling from the betrayals and abuses at their core.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.