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Just Enough Rope.

Just Enough Rope Poor Joan Braden has a serious problem. She knows nothing about sex. Nada, zip, zero, zilch. Passion and the pleasures of the flesh have miraculously eluded this woman of a certain age who has spent a little time flirting, courting, and globe-trotting with some of the world's most attrative and, of course, important men. But the trouble is not just Braden's lack of carnal knowledge. It is that she has chosen to disclose her ignorance, along with her climb to the parlors, and perhaps, the bedrooms, of the mighty, by writing a book about it. Posing as a breathless chronicler of the great, glamorous, and powerful, who run the nation's capital, she has penned a coy and name-dropping memoir, Just Enough Rope. (The title, from a Dorothy Parker peom, describes the latitude her husband has allowed her in her pursuit of the power elite.)

If you doubt my veracity on Joan's ignorance of the birds and the bees, listen to this:

"I like warmth on a cold night as well as the next person. But I don't know a thing about sex. Despite having eight children, I don't know as much as the next person. Because the next person always seems to know and confide in me that they know all manners of mysteries and techniques. Particularly men. And men assume, I don't know why, that I must know all these mysteries and techniques. . . . the correct arrangement of lights, the eroticism of perfume, the sensualness of clothing, the gentle touch of fingers. Why do they assume it? I don't know. David Bruce [the patrician ambassador to the Court of St. James under Kennedy] used to suggest during quiet dinners that I was a walking encyclopedia on these matters. And when I told him I wasn't, that I didn't know any more about it than a girl on spring vacation, he dropped the pretense of polish which had distinguished him for 50 years in at least five diplomatic posts. 'All right,' he said. 'You're an ignoramus. Then let's have a toss in the hay.'"

At this point there is no swell of music or graceful fade to black. Instead, Braden announces that David Bruce was far too courtly and experienced to be caught in such an ungentlemanly act; but that, Tom, her husband of 40 years was not. Unsophisticated, inexperienced Tom, she feels compelled to divulge, was a definite "hay tosser."

Deploring monogamy, Braden, a former Rockefeller aide, Kennedy campaign aide, Kissinger friend and hostess, public relations consultant, and wife of syndicated columnist Tom Braden, portrays herself as the perpetual jeune fille, chaste, yet irresistible to men, whose only aim is to gain entree to the smart set. As she puts it, "Joannie wants to get to go." This is her personal best.

The dilemma she faces is that she wants to go everywhere. To attend every glitzy party, meet every famous male--occasionally a female--while leaving her children at home and dragging her often disgruntled and impecunious husband in her determined wake.

What Braden unwittingly reveals is that she is an ambitious, or upwardly mobile man-izer. Her book is a series of close encounters--part feckless who-done-it, part embarrassing kiss-but-don't-tell. The question throughout the vacuous slim volume is: Who did she, or didn't she, do IT with, and above all, why should we care?

Let's start with powerful man number one, her original mentor, the late Nelson Rockefeller. Braden began her professional career working for Rockefeller and continued to do so on and off throughout his lifetime. Rockefeller introduced Joan to her husband, Tom, a former CIA agent, and ultimately launched him as a journalist by giving him money to buy a newspaper in Oceanside, California.

As Braden likes to tell it, Rockefeller's interest went way beyond office chitchat. "My lack of sophistication appealed to him, and I sensed that it made me physically attractive. But I couldn't do anything about it. I was what I was. . . . straight, untutored, virginal." When he propositioned her in the office, she feigned outrage. On another occasion she asked if she could use his shower, and when he decided to join her, she did what every well brought-up young girl would have done: jumped out, toweled off, and headed straight for the nearest party.

Powerful man number two: Bobby Kennedy. She describes being with RFK in an Indianapolis motel room the evening of the day Martin Luther King was shot. "There was a knock on the door. It was Bobby. He looked at me saying nothing and pulled his tie off. He put his arms around me and pulled me down on the bed alongside him and we lay there for a long while and cried. Yes, I love Tom. Yes, I've always loved him. . . . But to say that because you love your husband, it's impossible to love another man is as silly as to say that because you love your son, it's impossible to love your daughter."

After this ingenuous statement it is probably time to enlighten the reader on the Bradens' unique philosophy of marriage. Joan's observation that it is different from most other unions is surprisingly accurate. "If I want to consort with another man I do. And if [Tom] wants to consort with another woman he does. We trust each other. We have too much respect for each other's individuality to want to destroy it by fixing boundaries on friendships and the developments of friendships. So we give each other total freedom. . . trusting in each other's honor, love, and sense of courtesy."

Discourtesy chez Braden means indiscretion and is to be avoided if possible. So we're supposed to believe this happy couple has sailed blithely along, always trusting, never cheating, and, above all, never, never, asking a leading question, like, "What did you do today, dear?" The latter, Braden informs us, would undoubtedly spoil her marriage.

Powerful man number three: Robert McNamara. "Am I keeping Robert McNamara from getting married?" ponders Braden in a chapter devoted solely to her "special" friendship with the former secretary of defense and head of the World Bank, a widower. They are such good friends that Braden says she plays the role of wife, and best of all, Joannie gets to go to some swell places. "[McNamara] attracts the attention of a certain number of women who are divorced or whose husbands have died and who wouldn't mind going along. And I'm the one that gets to go. Bob and I go to the Netherlands. We go to France. We go to Russia. We go to Greece. We go to Africa. We go wherever he has board meetings or seminars or speeches that interest me. In short, I have more fun with Bob McNamara than I do with anybody else in the world, sometimes but not always excepting my husband. As to whether I am keeping Bob McNamara from getting married, it worries me. What would I do without him?"

Powerful man number four: Kirk Douglas. Upon meeting the famous movie star, Braden became unbalanced and developed a chemical reaction. "Chemical reactions begin in the mind," she explains, "and move downward quite rapidly until you feel the tingling all the way to your toes. Suddenly as I was asking [Douglas] some trivial question, he turned to me, looked me full in the eyes and said, 'I want to be your best friend.'"

Alas, the whole experience was far more memorable to Braden than to Kirk Douglas. In his recent bestseller, The Ragman's Son, in which he tells all about the women he has known, Joan Braden does not warrant a mention.

Most of the rest of her work deals with evenings in Camelot and travels with the Kennedys; tea and fast repartee with Alice Roosevelt Longworth; problems with her various jobs, as well as with her husband, children, and their innumerable exotic pets; and playing hostess for Henry Kissinger, which put her on the social map. She also wastes a lot of ink on dispensing advice under the heading, "Ancient Truths," with such sage suggestions as: Lie about your age. Never go to a dinner party when you're ill. Never tell a white lie. Don't use age as an excuse for not caring how you look. Her reasons are too puerile to explain. I feel for her family.

If you are wondering, as I am, what possessed Joan Braden to write a book, the answer lies in the foreword. In sum, for no apparent reason, she seems convinced that she is destined to play both role model and catalyst for other "average" but persistent women who--what else?--want to get to go.

"Whenever I tell a new friend or acquaintance a story about what I've seen or done, the new friend or acquaintance expresses astonishment."

Just Enough Rope. Joan Braden. Villard, $18.95.
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Article Details
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Author:McElwaine, Sandra
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.
Next Article:The Antagonists.

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