CBR11Bingo – History Schmistory
At one point in Don DeLillo’s imagined version of the Kennedy Assassination, ex-CIA agent Walter Everett, Jr. philosophizes on the art of fabricating a cover story. The key, he says, is to create a sense of unreality through conflicting information, nonsensical contradictions, inconsistencies and the like. It’s this unreality, this messiness, that feels more real in our crazy world. Truth is stranger than fiction after all, so the key to making a fiction seem like the truth is to make it strange.
It’s clear that in attempting to weave a narrative out of the conspiracy theories that swirl around the tragedy in Dallas DeLillo heeded his own character’s advice. Libra is a confusing melange of oddball characters with ridiculous backstories and outrageous beliefs. Between the hairless, gay, ex-pilot David Ferrie, the disheartened ex-Communist Cuban refugees, and a trio of disgruntled CIA outcasts desperate to oust Fidel Castro, Lee Harvey Oswald doesn’t even seem like the weirdest character in the book.
DeLillo cuts back and forth among his wide cast but following Oswald most closely. From his peripatetic childhood being dragged around the country by his harried mother to his entry into the Marine Corps, his discharge, his emigration to the Soviet Union and his marriage to a girl from Minsk. Eventually, Oswald and his wife find themselves in Dallas, and the rest is history.
The other half of the book follows DeLillo’s invented CIA vets. The trio were all involved in the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and remain resentful of Kennedy for what they perceive as his betrayal of their mission. They long to get Cuba back to the top of the President’s agenda in order to return the island to its pre-Castro glory and profitability. Their plan is to stage an attempt on the President’s life, purportedly by a pro-Castro communist, in order to shock the country into action. As they’re trying to manufacture a patsy to suit their purpose, Lee Harvey Oswald walks into their lives, fitting the bill to an eerie degree. His defection to the Soviet Union and his history of political radicalism are perfectly suited to their needs.
Eventually though, their perfect plan with its perfect patsy spins out of their control, and the story reaches it’s inevitable tragic end. The book flags a little in the approach to November 22, 1963 and its aftermath, as DeLillo lets the historical record take precedence over his artful story-telling. Still, as a whole Libra is a fascinating and compelling look at one of the most well-remembered and yet mysterious events in American history.