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i thought this was a truly great book. it is not a "conspiracy" novel as such, because while it deals with a lot of that kind of material surrounding the assassination of j.f.k., it's main achievement lies in an investigation of how many of the "cast" - oswald in particular, of course - might have thought and felt and reached their positions and attitudes. delillo brilliantly gets imaginatively "inside" the minds of his characters, and their memories and the forces that drive them. whether his insights are "true" is beside the point. he goes into their histories and interactions and makes you believe in them from the inside. in the end it is this examination of the thoughts and feelings and souls and minds of the principal characters in those fervent times that is the subject of this book, as much as the actual connections that may, or may not, have lead to the final act. james ellroy covers the same material very differently, if also brilliantly. interestingly i heard ellroy on the radio choosing "libra" as his one "desert island" favourite book. it is not hard to see why.
Fictional version of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life. Absolutely gripping and fascinating. Perhaps as expected, the CIA and the FBI do not come out as clean as driven snow, nor do some of the dark arts characters in this really excellent book. A ripper read!
I come to DeLillo's Libra via James Ellroy's American Tabloid. Ellroy has his own take on the Kennedy assassination, but he praises DeLillo's take very highly. When Ellroy praises, I listen.
I see now why Ellroy loves the book. DeLillo's take is very persuasive and executed with high art. DeLillo's Oswald is an alienated loner, seeking to connect with something important. He's not sure what that is--a momentous event, a large historical process? He distrusts all governments--ours, the USSR's, the Mexicans'--and moves mercurially between ideologies. He serves in the military; he defects to Russia; he leaves Russia; he flees his mother though she is the only steady point in his life; he marries a Russian woman but beats her and drives her away. As those who would seek to exploit him realize, he is both vague and weak but sometimes strong and determined. He has been bullied and brutalized in the past but he has somehow survived; he could be the perfect tool.
It is an old principle in literary study that the more you get to know a character the more you like that character, even if the character is radically flawed. DeLillo is working against that principle and he does so successfully. The more we get to know Oswald . . . the more we get to know him. We do not like him; we simply begin to understand him as a figure more pathetic than malevolent, more sad than savage, more lost and doomed than the other characters in the shadows who populate his world.
The other dark forces--Castro-hating CIA agents, bitter Mafiosi, uber-weird right-wingers like David Ferrie--are beautifully realized and ultimately part of the strange stew in which Lee Harvey Oswald ultimately finds himself. In capturing the characters DeLillo is capturing the times. He does that very well. He also captures the places, particularly New Orleans and Dallas, though we get a feel for Miami as well.
DeLillo's structure is largely chronological, but he switches between characters and points of view and offers an overall impression that coheres very nicely. Much of the character depiction is phenomenological, with a summation of experiences, impressions, insights, glimpses, momentary realizations. This is very Ellroyesque and we can see DeLillo's influence in many ways.
Finally, this is a piece of historical fiction which is very plausible, very moving and very, very sad. The writing is generally exquisite. The characters and events (as Conrad would say) have been very carefully contemplated. In Heart of Darkness Conrad writes of the `brooding gloom' that hangs over London and its environs. If it's brooding gloom that you want, here, in Libra, is God's plenty.
This is such a wonderfully written book. But in it DeLillo somehow manages to prophesize the next 20 years of JFK assassination research. This book is published a few months before Jim Garrison's "On the Trail of the Assassins" and yet mimics many of the conclusions Garrison himself came to. There is also the question of Oswald and destiny, not in Stephen King's sense, but the question of how long were forces guiding Oswald to his unavoidable fate? And who was Oswald, bother literally and figuratively, something John Armstrong takes up in "Harvey and Lee." Putting aside references to JFK Assassination research, this is a brilliant book of fiction which manages to fill in the mosaic that is the events and people that lead to the death of John Kennedy.