Since I had taken the time to read Stephen King’s time travel novel relating to the Kennedy assassination, I decided to read a bit more about the events of November 22, 1963. It happened that Don DeLillo’s novel, Libra, was sitting on my “to read” shelves (as are a couple of hundred other books). I’ve just completed his book and will share some comments.
Libra was published in August of 1988 (25 years after the assassination) by Viking. The book is 456 pages long. Signed copies of the 1st printing can be found at around $75 to $100. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for only 4 weeks – never getting higher than 13 - and had fallen off by the time November 1988 rolled around. DeLillo won the National Book Award (Fiction) for White Noise and Libra, his next novel, was a finalist for the same award.
Even though DeLillo’s novel is built upon fact, he has done an amazing job of blending his fictionalization with actual events and characters. It is hard for the reader to realize when facts meld into DeLillo’s story of how things might have happened. The characters are complex and they move within many fuzzy subplots, most of which converge in
on November 22nd. The main focus is, of course, on Lee Harvey Oswald and his
strange life on the fringes of society, both here and in Dealey Plaza Russia. Other
key characters include a variety of CIA agents, retired or semi-retired, anti-Castro
Cubans, mobsters, FBI informants, and Jack Ruby, who seemed to have had some
association with almost all of the other players.
DeLillo’s position is that the assassination was a conspiracy, or scheme, or plot that took on a life of its own, often driven by elements of chance and even chaos. There was no real structure or leader or even very good communication. Things just evolved. The tipping-point event that triggered all of this was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of
(April 1961). The invasion was orchestrated by the CIA, working with Cuban
refugees. The CIA hoped to persuade the young President (who had been in office
for less than 3 months) to authorize USAF air support, once the invaders were
struggling onshore. Kennedy refused, as he had warned he would, but many in the
CIA, as well as Cuban refugees in the U.S., felt they’d been terribly betrayed.
In the novel, several quasi-retired CIA agents develop a scheme designed to focus the country, and the administration, against Castro. A failed assassination attempt on JFK that could be traced directly back to Castro would get things back on track. Lee Harvey Oswald just happens to surface in key places at key times, and the conspirators decide he would be the perfect patsy in their scheme. I won’t go into the details of Oswald’s life that make up much of the core of the novel. The reader knows what is going to happen in
but how all the subplots evolve into the shots in
is the intrigue in this read. Indeed, wouldn’t an assassination actually be
better than a failed attempt? Dealey Plaza
The difference between the King and DeLillo novels is huge – one is an easy, but very long read, and the other requires the reader to pay very careful attention. Libra is definitely not for all readers. George Will hated the book and railed publically against it – from my perspective, that’s a damn good endorsement. Anne Tyler wrote a very comprehensive, and positive, review of Libra.
I found, as I worked through Libra, that I often grabbed a different book to help me follow the players and the details. This book, The Assassination Please Almanac, was the first published book of local writer Tom Miller. It was published by Regnery Press as a magazine-sized, soft cover book in 1977. It is a comprehensive, actually amazing, collection of factoids and media quotes relevant to the assassination. After being out of print for many years, it is now available as a “Print-On-Demand” book.
From the front cover – “This sourcebook/collection is the nerviest in years.” Rolling Stone
From the back cover – “The Assassination Please Almanac is a consumer’s guide to conspiracy theories, an annotated bibliography of JFK assassination books, a chronology of events leading up to and away from November 22, 1963, and a black humor look at the Kennedy assassination. A rare find in high demand on the assassobuff circuit, now back in print for all to appreciate.” Publisher’s blurb