Trelawney Castle in Cornwall would never make the “Stately Houses of Britain” show on a PBS pledge week, given that it is an 800-year-old crumble with wallpaper flapping in the breeze and rusty springs popping out from the sofas. Trelawney Castle is also fictional, the ingenious creation of Rothschild, the first woman chair of London’s National Portrait Gallery, who populates the property with a steamer trunk of residents and visitors, some of them risible, some redeemable, and some of them both as the Great Recession engulfs them. By the end of the book, one wishes Trelawney existed for real.
A smart drug addict is able to hide his habit from his loved ones, and Zimmerman happened to be married to a very smart one indeed. A well-regarded lawyer at a California law firm with a passion for glass-walled homes with views of the beach, Peter Zimmerman broke up his marriage with an affair, but his true love was cocaine. His ex-wife describes the sadness and despair behind the success, and tells the tale with brave precision. The next time you drive down the California coast and admire the gleaming houses, remember that behind some of those walls are tragedies worthy of Ross Macdonald.
Mary Meyer’s claim to fame is that she was shot in the head while walking along a towpath in Georgetown in 1964. Tragic as that was, the fact that she had been a lover of President Kennedy’s and was once married to a top-level C.I.A. official made the death suspicious. That her brother-in-law, Ben Bradlee, rushed to her house and helped get rid of her diary made the death highly suspicious among conspiracy theorists. Not to mention that a journalist who blew apart the Nixon administration deep-sixed history. A suspect was eventually tried for the murder but acquitted. The killing remains unsolved.
Nina Burleigh covered the nonfiction aspect of this story in her compelling A Very Private Woman, and now Kornbluth provides us with the highly entertaining fictional version, in which he imagines Meyer thinking J.F.K. might divorce Jackie and marry her after his victorious 1964 election. Kornbluth shows that the strongest of dreams are fashioned not just from loneliness but from delusion.