THERE'S A WONDERFUL old black-and-white photo on the cover of Edward Klein's new book about the Kennedy marriage, All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy (406 pages. Pocket Books. $23). The picture shows Jackie in pearls and makeup gazing straight into Jack's eyes, her little finger hooked around his lapel. Jack's face is averted from the camera, but he seems to be gazing back at her, while a slight smile crinkles his face. They both look very young, and in Jackie's clear eyes there is a great deal of faith. After everything that's been written about this couple in the last three decades, it's impossible not to stare at that photo and see their future unfolding: the flagrant infidelities, the misery and pressure, the amphetamine use, the stillbirth and the newborn's death, the horrible finale. But surely that grim chronicle isn't the only truth about the Kennedys, any more than incessant photos of Camelot and romps on the beach adequately sum up their relationship. Surely there is, as Klein promises in his subtitle, a ""love story'' to be told about the Kennedys, one that shows how the word ""love'' might be capacious enough to describe their marriage in its entirety.
Alas, Klein hasn't written that story. His book never taps the mysteries of its provocative cover. Instead, we get a largely familiar Kennedy story about money, alcohol, sex and politics, albeit with some fresh details. Anyone curious about Jackie's premarital sex life, for instance, will pounce on the news of a love affair she had in Paris during her junior year abroad. Her beau was John P. Marquand Jr., son of the novelist; Klein describes them having sex in an old-fashioned elevator on their way up to Marquand's flat. As for Jack, his monomaniacal skirt-chasing has been well documented, and Klein puts a new name on the list -- Lee Radziwill, Jackie's sister. Klein writes that the two slept together while Jackie was still in the hospital after Caroline's birth.
More striking by far than any single revelation here is the overwhelming evidence that in private life, JFK was pond scum. Klein's account of the young senator's response when Jackie suffered a stillbirth in 1956 is not new, but it's as chilling a tale as ever. Off partying in the Mediterranean with a boatful of women, Jack decided there was no reason to return home; what good would that do? Not until press coverage of his absence threatened to make him look churlish did he agree to fly back. Klein, like other observers, believes that Jackie may have taken at least one lover in retaliation for JFK's behavior over the years: Gianni Agnelli, the Fiat heir.
Plainly, equal access to infidelity was not going to repair the damage to their marriage, but in Klein's view Jack and Jackie grew more committed as fatherhood settled in and the presidency forced Jack to grow up. He also gained a new respect for his wife when she turned Paris upside down on their now legendary trip. By the time they went to Dallas, Klein believes, they were genuinely happy.
Klein, a longtime journalist (and a friend of Jackie's) who has been the editor of The New York Times Magazine and an assistant managing editor of NEWSWEEK, conducted more than 300 interviews for this book, both on the record and off. He also cites numerous published sources, and makes use of FBI and other documents. But for all his reportorial heavy lifting, the book is flat and superficial. Klein gives every jot of information the same weight, whether he's discussing the menu at Schrafft's or the Cuban missile crisis. A thousand details pile up, but they're rarely bolstered with analysis or reflection. It's nice to know how much the cook was paid ($6) for making the dinner (chicken casserole) that was on the table the night Jack and Jackie met in Georgetown, but the dinner party itself disintegrates under Klein's scattershot narrative. And the clunky chitchat doesn't help. (Klein admits in a footnote that he made up the party dialogue, basing it on current events of 1951.)
""So, Charlie,'' Jack said as Charlie struggled to open a bottle of white wine, ""what's the latest with Joe McCarthy?''
""Oh, Charlie,'' Jackie cooed flirtatiously, ""you know Joe McCarthy?''
Worst of all, nobody in this book comes to life. Klein does a lot of fake scene-setting (""Jackie came down the broad, carpeted stairs at Merrywood just as the grandfather clock struck half past 12''), but it's no substitute for a novelist's sense of character, and that's what this story needs. ""All Too Human'' is nowhere near human enough.
Neither is the summer's earlier book on the same subject, Christopher Andersen's ""Jack and Jackie.'' But Andersen is a writer as well as a reporter, and his thoughtful handling of both the drama and the dirt in this family makes his book far more substantive than Klein's. Still, Jack and Jackie await the author who can do them justice. John Updike, are you busy?