Picks and Pans Review: Symptoms of Withdrawal

updated 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Christopher Kennedy Lawford

The son of Pat Kennedy (sister of Bobby and JFK) and Rat Packer Peter Lawford, Christopher Kennedy Lawford writes about growing up not so much in the glare of fame as in the haze of it: As this confessional illustrates, losing yourself is a hazard when your family name gives you access to all the virtue and vice the world offers.

Lawford's was a Hollywood childhood of card parties with Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, swimming with Uncle Jack the President, dancing with Marilyn Monroe and later, a trip to Disneyland with Elizabeth Taylor while he was stoned. But the author was an awkward boy who had the misfortune to be born to dazzling people with many interests, none of them children; there is a queasy hilarity to his mother's passionate involvement in fund-raising for drug education while ignoring the son who was getting high. In the absence of Lawford (who was divorced from Pat in 1966), Robert Kennedy became Christopher's father figure—until he, too, was gone.

Lawford writes movingly about how the downward spiral of a generation of Kennedys began with the death of JFK and, even more so, with RFK's death nearly five years later. He lost his best friend, his cousin David and RFK's son, to a drug overdose in 1984--the same year he lost his father to alcoholism.

This book didn't have to be well-written to be riveting, but it is, nonetheless: Few have written so well about the joy of drugs, and few are as unsparing about their drug-driven selfishness. While his parents' failings are chillingly self-evident, the author isn't vindictive; he saves his harshest criticism for himself. By the end, the reader is cheering for Lawford's recovery. It would have been so easy for him to end up like his cousin David. The miracle is that he didn't.

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