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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Libra (1988) by Don DeLillo

Lee Harvey Oswald.  This picture appears on the cover of Libra, Don DeLillo's novel about the JFK assassination.
Book Review
Libra (1988)
 by Don DeLillo

  Don DeLillo wasn't the first American novelist to take a recent historical event and rewrite it from the perspective of the actual historical actors.  The Public Burning by Robert Coover, published in 1977, retells the story of the Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg Russian spying case from the perspective of then Vice-President Richard Nixon.  Libra is a re-telling of the assassination of JFK, from the perspective of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and a colorful cast of characters.  DeLillo deserves recognition for the genius of selecting the JFK assassination as his subject.  No single historical event of the last half century has generated more fevered speculation among weirdos and obsessives than JFK's assassination and the resulting investigation.   To recap what you may or may not remember from your most recent brush with this story:

   Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK from the sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository.  The Warren Commission determined that Oswald acted alone.  Oswald was murdered shortly after his arrest by Jack Ruby, a Dallas business man.  Many people have raised numerous questions about the "official" version of events, with key attention paid to whether there were multiple gunmen positioned the day JFK was killed, whether Oswald was led to act by government affiliates, particularly those responsible for the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba, what happened to Oswald in Russia when he defected, etc, etc, but most of the speculation is around the "fact" that Oswald acted alone.

  The counter-fact, that Oswald DID NOT act alone, is accepted as truth by three quarters of the United States population. (GALLUP)  In Libra, DeLillo firmly aligns himself with the community of doubters, drawing from the facts but giving them the kind of coloring that suggests that every potential participant in the JFK plot is a character from a Saul Bellow novel written in the fifties.  Some of that similarity may come from the fact that many of the Dallas and New Orleans based characters in Libra come from Chicago and left in the 1950's.

  The greatest irony surrounding Libra is that for a majority of Americans, it is Libra which is closer to the truth of "what happened" to JFK than the exhaustively researched and publicly assembled Warren Report.  

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