ISBN: 0140156046
ISBN 13: 9780140156041
By: Don DeLillo

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About this book

In this powerful, eerily convincing fictional speculation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Don DeLillo chronicles Lee Harvey Oswald's odyssey from troubled teenager to a man of precarious stability who imagines himself an agent of history. When "history" presents itself in the form of two disgruntled CIA operatives who decide that an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the president will galvanize the nation against communism, the scales are irrevocably tipped. A gripping, masterful blend of fact and fiction, alive with meticulously portrayed characters both real and created, Libra is a grave, haunting, and brilliant examination of an event that has become an indelible part of the American psyche.

Reader's Thoughts


Death. Delillo writes about death how we try to idle it by watching T.V. and at the same time hasten it with technology, tehnology that creates advanced weapons used in war. iphone apps that kill.


My understanding of the general consensus is that Don DeLillo peaked with the four-book run of White Noise, Libra, Mao II, and Underworld. Having enjoyed Mao II and been downright floored by White Noise and Underworld, I intentionally put off reading Libra. I wanted to keep it in reserve as a special treat. A few days ago I looked at the nice hardcover copy I've had sitting on a shelf for several years and finally broke down, tearing into it with greedy relish. Don did not let me down. I think Libra is his masterpiece.The book moves along at an even clip. DeLillo's rhythm never falters. His artful prose and the plot's gripping momentum flow together in perfect concord. In Underworld, great as it is, the shifts in setting are sometimes a little jarring. This is fine. It helps give that book its tremendous sweep. But in Libra, all the details are woven together from the very beginning. Part of the fascination for me came from the the way DeLillo traces the web of relationships between the numerous characters, setting in motion this swarm of clandestine actors, and at the same time humanizing them, drawing them out of the shadows by mixing together descriptions of their political ideologies, professional activities, and domestic lives. When it contributes to setting the scene, advances the plot, or fills out a character, he piles detail on top of detail, but when it's time to move along he pares it back before things can become bogged down.It's a testament to DeLillo's creative powers that he was able to take a historical event around which so many conspiracy theories have been built up and craft a fictional conspiracy that feels fresh. Wacky though they may often be, conspiracy theorists have always fascinated me with their willingness to devote time to exploring the lives, in minute detail, of even the most peripheral figures of an alleged conspiracy. DeLillo captures some of that obsessiveness, both in describing the work of the story's CIA historian, who's trying to piece together an official Agency history of the Kennedy assassinaton, and in the characters involved in the events themselves—some of the most fully-fleshed and believable characters in any of his novels.Above all, Libra is one of the best combinations of absorbing story and stylistically beautiful prose I've read in a while.

Graeme Hinde

For the first hundred pages or so I was afraid Libra would be an embarrassing attempt by an intellectual writer at a Tom Clancy-style spy thriller. I haven't liked the past couple DeLillo books I've read, and this one initially gave me the same feeling I got from those -- that the author was experimenting with style in a self-indulgent and distracting way. He writes this one in choppy, disconnected sentences and fragments with heavy repetition, and at the same time uses the shop-worn trick of alternating between two narratives with each chapter. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because the disconnected, choppy repetitiveness actually serves the theme very well, and he brings the two narratives together gradually and adroitly, pacing it marvelously and even generating a Clancy-style adrenaline rush. More than that, DeLillo has a lot of fascinating things to say. For one, Lee Harvey Oswald is a rich and compelling subject, and the author does a great job plumbing the psyche of the Libra. For two, although DeLillo doesn't claim that this is an accurate narrative of the conspiracy to assassinate the president, he convincingly assembles the facts and emotions bubbling around the Cuba situation to show how they coalesced to produce one of our nation's defining moments; the book is valuable simply as a history lesson. Most importantly, his comments on the nature of conspiracy are compelling and perceptive. Conspiracy theorists tend to attribute conspirators with super powers, while people like me tend to reject conspiracy theories outright. The truth, as always, is in the middle; there are conspiracies, but they are as ham-fistedly executed as all human endeavors, and if they succeed, it's never as planned, and due as much to chance as anything else. When DeLillo actually has something to say, he's as good or better than any of his contemporaries.


It feels more centered, more focused than White Noise, in large part since it takes such a specific event and builds a weird, fevered narrative around it. It Shows how a group of extremely powerful but extremely isolated zealots find themselves drawn into a labyrinth connected by coincidence/destiny/large, vaguely defined forces of history. On one level Delillo is offering a very contemporary sort of critique about the nature of conspiracy theories and how people conceive of and develop them as a way of grappling with aspects of modernity that are simply too difficult to rationalize otherwise. But at the same time he can't resist coming up with his own rather elaborate idea of who is really responsible for the Kennedy assassination. And it does a great job of showing what happens when crazy right-wing anti-communist, nativist hysteria runs rampant through people's minds. The anti-castro leagues of the early 60's come across as being the precursors of the tea party movement today.

Patrick Ciccone

OK, only halfway through, but I would like to point out Don DeLillo's ease with the looming unease of so much Americana (title of his first book):"There was something about a long and low and open-space house with a lawn and a carport that made her feel spiritually afraid."I would say the same of white Vermont clapboard houses too--though I like them.To be cont'd.

Marco Tamborrino

- Quando è il tuo compleanno?- Il diciotto ottobre, - rispose Lee.- Libra. La Bilancia.- Sì, la Bilancia, - disse Ferrie- L'Equilibrio, - disse Shaw.Quelli della bilancia. Alcuni sono positivi, padroni di sé, equilibrati, con la testa a posto, saggi e rispettati da tutti. Altri invece sono negativi, cioè piuttosto instabili, impulsivi. Tanto, ma tanto, ma tanto influenzabili. Propensi a spiccare il salto pericoloso. In entrambi i casi, la chiave è l'equilibrio. A volte finisci dei libri e non è che ti senti privato di un amico. Ti senti privato di un mondo intero. Finisci dei libri e ti chiedi cosa succede là fuori, perché mai tu sei dentro casa a leggere. Ti portano via un universo. Le ultime pagine. Le lacrime che colano sull'inchiostro. E le domande, le migliaia di domande prima dell'ultima riga. Ti hanno derubato, quando finisci dei libri. Così io mi sono sentito: come se mi avessero tolto ogni certezza. Le certezze derivate da un mese di lettura, da un mese di lettura sulla vita di Lee Harvey Oswald. Ventiquattro anni. Una vita giovane, eppure una vita immensa. Adesso ho bisogno di aria. Ho finito un libro che è poesia. Quando finisci un libro che è poesia è normale che ti venga voglia di uscire a respirare un po' d'aria fresca. È il disfacimento interiore delle proprie convinzioni. Le parole che graffiano, stridono, si artigliano ai tuoi vestiti, ti si accalcano addosso. Non puoi farci niente. Sono gelide e secche, sono lì per fare del male.Ma che cos'è Libra?Io penso che Libra sia Lee Harvey Oswald, e che Lee Harvey Oswald non possa essere altro che Libra. Il romanzo stesso. Tutti i dettagli della sua vita. L'infanzia, la giovinezza, l'amore. L'Unione Sovietica, l'odio per il sistema capitalista. Lee Harvey Oswald è conosciuto dalla maggior parte di noi semplicemente come l'assassino del trentacinquesimo Presidente degli Stati Uniti d'America, John Fiztgerald Kennedy. Ci fermiamo qui e lo odiamo. Pensare a un complotto sarebbe troppo complesso. Un complotto implica centinaia di piste da seguire, centinaia di dati su centinaia di personaggi, tutti coloro che sono entrati in contatto con Lee Harvey Oswald. Perché alla fine gira tutto intorno a lui. Tutto riporta a lui. Sono un capro espiatorio, disse prima di venire ucciso da Jack Ruby."C'è abbastanza mistero nei fatti così come li conosciamo, abbastanza complotto, coincidenza, questioni irrisolte, vicoli ciechi, molteplicità di interpretazioni. Non c'è bisogno, pensa, di inventare la grande macchinazione magistrale, la congiura che si ramifica impeccabilmente in dieci direzioni diverse."Non ce n'è bisogno, già. Ma alla fine non si può far altro. Fu veramente Oswald a uccidere il presidente. Era l'unico a sparare, quel giorno? Ventidue novembre millenovecentosessantatre. Come mai tutte le persone che entrarono in contatto con lui negli ultimi mesi della sua vita morirono pochi anni dopo? De Lillo intreccia ai fatti reali sulla vita di Oswald gli eventi fittizi che darebbero vita a un grande complotto per assassinare il presidente e far pensare che Oswald fosse stato inviato da Cuba, e alimentare quindi una nuova invasione dell'isola dopo il fallimento della Baia dei Porci. Ancora oggi, dopo tre inchieste (una delle quali è la famosa e abnorme Commissione Warren), non si è riusciti a dimostrare che si trattasse di un complotto. E così hanno deciso che è stato lui e basta. Lee Harvey Oswald ha ucciso il presidente. Da solo. Ma noi non leggiamo Libra per sapere questo. Questo lo sappiamo già. Noi leggiamo Libra per sapere se la vita di L. H. Oswald era una vita come tante oppure una vita speciale. E scopriamo, quasi con sorpresa, che era entrambe le cose. Che tutte le nostre vite soneo entrambe le cose. Speciali e normali. Che l'amore è speciale e normale. Che avere una figlia, diventare padre, è insieme una cosa meravigliosa, inaspettata e incredibile, tanto quanto una cosa quotidiana e noiosa.Chi è Lee Harvey Oswald?"L'assistente sociale scrisse: «Le risposte alle domande rivelano che il ragazzo sente fra sé e le altre persone un velo che lo rende irraggiungibile, ma preferisce che il velo resti intatto»."Lee H. Oswald è un ragazzino maltrattato dai compagni di scuola che vive da solo con la madre. Si spostano in continuazione. A dieci anni ha già cambiato sei scuole. Cresce leggendo il manuale dei marines di suo fratello Robert, già arruolato. Poi inizia a leggere letteratura marxista. Si arruola a 18 anni. Nell'esercito gli capita di sbagliare, e viene spedito nel carcere di rigore ad Atsugi, Giappone. Conosce il sistema della prigione americana. Poi, passando per la Finlandia, va in Unione Sovietica. Si innamora di Marina, la sposa, e quando si accorge che il comunismo è tutto tranne quello che pensava, torna in Amerca. Qui viene preso di mira dai servizi segreti americani, ex agenti della CIA che tramano per uccidere il presidente e far partire un'invasione di Cuba. Viene preso di mira perché ha tutte le caratteristiche del personaggio di cui questi congiurati hanno bisogno. È l'uomo perfetto."L'obiettivo principale è che Kennedy muoia.Il secondo obiettivo è che muoia Oswald."Secondo la classica ricostruzione dei fatti, quella che - più o meno - tutti conosciamo, Lee Harvey Oswald sparò tre proiettili in meno di sei secondi. Il primo ferì lievemente il presidente sotto il mento. Il secondo mancò il bersaglio. Il terzo aprì un buco nella testa di JFK. In Libra, quando Oswald sta mirando per sparare il terzo proiettile, nel mirino del suo fucile vede la testa del presidente esplodere, ma non per il suo colpo. Sono un capro espiatorio, disse. E noi, ancora oggi, non sappiamo quale sia la verità.Ma Lee Harvey Oswald era anche il ragazzo che ha saputo amare con tutto se stesso come qualsiasi essere umano. Il ragazzo che passava le notti a fissare la figlia, tanto l'amava. Tornato in America si mise a picchiare Marina, è vero, ma paradossalmente non smise mai di amarla."Il saluto con cui le rispondeva era infantile, un agitar di mano, un piacere profondo e toccante. Sembrava dirle, dalla sua barchetta: - Guardaci, siamo un miracolo, così autentico e sicuro."Quali sono i personaggi che ruotano attorno all'universo di Libra, al mondo di Lee Harvey Oswald?Ce ne sono tanti. Ogni attentatore ha la sua storia, la sua famiglia, i suoi sentimenti. Ogni membro dell'operazione volta ad assassinare Kennedy richiede pagine e pagine di approfondimento. Niente è messo lì a caso. il più rilevante è forse David Ferrie (pilota della marina), omosessuale convinto di avere il cancro."- Dave, tu in cosa credi?- In tutto. Specialmente nella mia morte.- La desideri?- La sento. Io sono la pubblicità vivente del cancro.- Ma ne parli così volentieri.- Perché, avrei altra scelta?"Poi c'è Marguerite Oswald, la madre di Lee. Nei suoi capitoli sembra sempre parlare a un giudice in un'aula di tribunale. Dice che non può spiegare la vita di suo figlio con una semplice deposizione. Deve raccontarla tutta. E i toni con cui racconta sono drammatici, forti, impregnati di un opprimente senso di perdita allo stesso tempo umano e storico. E dopo Marguerite c'è Marina. Marina e il suo amore sincero per Lee, convinta che le cicatrici che lei e il ragazzo portano sulle braccia siano un segno del destino, un segno che li ha fatti incontrare e li farà stare insieme. Ma quando lui comincia a picchiarla, lei inizia a chiedersi se l'ami veramente, pur rimanendo invariato il suo amore per lui.A Marguerite e Marina si aggiunge una carrellata di personaggi più o meno importanti. Ma ognuno di loro, a modo suo, è tragico e malinconico. Ognuno si porta dietro una tristezza infinita, e il lettore sa perfettamente che tutto dovrà culminare con la morte del presidente. Perché è l'anima del complotti, terminare con una morte.Win Everett, ideatore dell'attentato, a tal proposito formulerà questo pensiero:"Le trame possiedono una logica. C'è una tendenza, nelle trame, a evolvere in direzione della morte. Lui era convinto che l'idea della morte fosse insita nella natura di ogni trama. Nelle trame di narrativa come in quelle di uomini armati. Più la trama di un racconto è fitta, più è probabile che approdi alla morte. La trama di un romanzo, credeva, è il nostro modo di localizzare la forza della morte fuori dal libro, di esorcizzarla, di contenerla."Qual è il senso di Libra?Forse DeLillo non aveva un secondo fine. Forse lo scrittore americano voleva solo scrivere un bel romanzo sulla questione documentandosi molto. Ma io credo che abbia voluto dare anche un segnale. Che la vita di ogni essere umano non è semplice. Non si può giudicare da un gesto. Non si può rinchiudere in un istante di tempo e lasciarla lì. Kennedy era un simbolo prima ancora che un uomo. E Lee Harvey Oswald o coloro che sono rimasti nell'ombra l'hanno distrutto. Ma perché? Non sono umani anche loro? Non sono simboli anche loro? Simboli di un America, di un sistema sbagliato?


DeLillo's poetic instinct isn't nearly as intrusive here as in White Noise or (thank god) The Names, but I still find myself wishing he wouldn't try so hard. His narration is excellent but he loves to derail it periodically with contemporarier-than-thou fragment pileups and sudden, meaningless proclamations like "There is a world inside the world." Uhhh, what?That's my only concrete complaint about Libra. Fiction is as useful a way as any to approach the Kennedy conspiracy, to whatever extent it was one. Or the Oswald conspiracy, as it feels more appropriate to call this treatment of it. DeLillo argues persuasively that the search for the truth about the assassination was futile from the moment Oswald was shot; the "facts" of the case that have emerged are so specious and so voluminous (a prototypical instance of information overload) that remaining agnostic about "the true story" is the key to finding a different kind of satisfaction in discussion of its meaning and ramifications. Everyone wants to make their case for or against, for instance, the second gunman on the grassy knoll. But why let that keep you up at night when you could be pondering even scarier notions: does our love of and need for heroes create men like Oswald and Ruby, and did their actions on some level sour us on the idea? And certainly not to suggest Oswald did the right thing, but did far bloodier catastrophe lie down the road for America under Kennedy?


Towering in its ambition and execution. DeLillo enters into the spirit of 1960s paranoia as fully as anyone could, and the empathy and insight on display as he inhabits character after character - from Marguerite Oswald to David Ferrie to Jack Ruby and above all Lee Harvey Oswald himself - it's a staggering achievement. As the NYRB rightly said about DeLillo: he is "current fiction’s most astounding ventriloquist". It was only with the shooting scene, 22 Nov 1963, that the novel finally started to lose some of its grip on me, some of its intensity.. a little raggedy and frayed around the edges, but with a novel this flamboyant, this monumental, that is an entirely forgivable flaw. Libra's place in the NYT's list of best American novels of the last 25 years is entirely justified.


This book moves slowly. After the first hundred pages or so, all of the setting up DeLillo does begins to pay off. As it does, the story also gets heavier. All of the periphery tightens a bit, making for a better read than the beginning indicates. The strength of the book is in DeLillo's binging Oswald to life. He's such a tragic character: desirous of importance, manipulated, and very disturbing. He has that emptiness seen in sociopaths, and it's a clinic in character development watching Oswald try to fill his void with Communism and murder. In a nutshell: the space needed to weave Oswald into literary existence will probably test the patience of even the most ardent DeLillo fan. I wished that the Goodreads rating system would let us enter half star values because I would totally give Libra a 3.5. But, even though it's DeLillo, this book wasn't entertaining enough to round up to four, so three stars it is.

Justin Evans

I unintentionally finished this days before the 50th anniversary of JFK's death, which made the whole thing even more enjoyable, if that's the right word. Aside from a bit of the good ole American prose (and its general fear of syntax more complex than subject-verb-object), and brief moments of postmodern angst (can we know anything???), this is an excellent, excellent book. It's easy to read but doesn't ignore the possibility that writing may (I'd go as far as 'should') be noticeable. But most importantly, it's very, very smart. What is an historical novel* meant to do? One character in 'Libra' suggests that history just is the sum total of what we don't know--presumably what we do know being either 'present' or, perhaps, knowing history makes it less likely to have unpleasant effects: if I know x has a history of beating his girlfriends, I'd warn my friend against dating him. Another character suggests that Oswald, who thinks that he wants to enter history, really wants *out* of history: he doesn't want to be a concrete thing, he wants to be a symbol. And of course he has become just that. Most of us know nothing about LHO except the image of him being shot, and despite this ignorance, we also feel that he's the image of America's shift (massive generalization alert) from confidence to neurosis. What we know, in this case at least, is just the symbol. But the symbol is not 'in' history; symbols float free of history. So yes, LHO wanted to get out of history, and he did. He's known. But only as a symbol. What we don't know is the real history. And that's what the historical novel, and narrative art more generally, offers us: some way to understand the messiness of 'history', to burrow under the symbols and decontextualized factoids. Art suggests and plays with what we don't know--here, LHO's personality, wishes and dreams on the one hand, and a possible conspiracy on the other. In other words, the historical novel and conspiracy theories do much the same thing: they try to contextualize symbols, to ground them in history, in the things we don't know. Libra achieves the almost impossible: it confers dignity on LHO and his family by paying attention to history. Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, dignify nobody, except perhaps the theorist in her own eyes. That's not to say that the urge to produce conspiracy theories is blameworthy. They're attempts to understand and get behind the symbols, just like DeLillo's novel. And the novel itself makes it hard to see what difference there might be between art and theory (aside from intelligence and style). I'm sure there is one, but how can I describe it? Right now, I just don't know. *: McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian' was published in 1985, three years before 'Libra'... and both feature a villainous, pederastic man who suffers from Alopecia universalis. Conspiracy?

Angus Clark

I finished Libra. I've done the first 300 or so pages of Underworld, which was beautiful but at the same time not worth finishing. Libra condensed Delillo's style down to a more manageable 450 pages, and he only felt the need to give some stupid out of place remark about the nature of humanity every ten or so pages, as opposed to the every page dose I experienced with Underworld ("Longing on a large scale is what makes history," etc).The other problem was that the story is one that you are already familiar with. JFK gets shot. Ruby kills Oswald. It's common knowledge, and you can't read the rest of the book seriously knowing that much of it must only be conjecture. It doesn't help conspiracy theorists, and it doesn't really help dinnertime conversations, because Delillo has a story to tell, not a balanced overview of events - he is an author, not Nick Branch.In the end, it's more my fault than Delillo's - historical fiction and I, as a rule, get on badly. Real characters shouldn't be repurposed - that's why you have fiction in the first place. Alas. Alright story, alright writing, not worth finishing.


Great novel on the JFK assassination. It presents itself very plausibly. It's not hard to believe that it could have happened this way. I'm sure many of us recall that when Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested one of the first things he told the police was "I'm a patsy." The context in which DeLillo places this statement is striking and memorable.

Megan Carter

More fiction than fact, this novel replays the JFK assassination.Libra is a fictionalized biography, both of Lee Harvey Oswald and of the JFK assassination. In addition to following Oswald through his shifts of loyalty, it also jumps around to a variety of fictional ex-CIA agents, FBI agents, Cuban sympathizers, Oswald’s mother, a historian of the assassination, and of course Jack Ruby. The plot is both as simple and as complex as all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard: everybody wants to kill the President. The thing I usually dislike about conspiracy theories is they tend to belittle the importance of individual people. All it does is feature a CIA plot to assassinate JFK. Sure, the conspiracy convinces both Oswald to shoot Kennedy and Ruby to shoot Oswald, but you get the impression that neither of them needed much convincing. You get the impression that things might not have been any different if there hadn’t been a conspiracy. That said, I didn’t really like it all that much. One of those books you read and think, "This was excellently done," just not for me. I think it’s the literary-fiction style of the dialogue: very choppy. For a book that was all about people and how they think, I found the dialogue unconvincing. But the whole thing seemed a little removed, as though you’re watching the characters through glass. I like to be able to have a certain picture of the characters.All together, I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I liked it very much and I have no particular desire to seek out more of DeLillo’s work. Still, that’s one more book checked off The List.


I'm told that the Don DeLillo who wrote this masterpiece is the same guy who wrote Underworld and White Noise, but as far as I'm concerned that's a plainly ridiculous theory and I'm not buying it at all and I've hired a private investigator to get to the bottom of why there are two Don DeLillos and why this one hasn't sued the other idiot for giving him a bad name. It's a mystery. Libra is entirely great. Its vocals, its backing, the bass, the drums, man alive the drums, the harmonies - celestial, Wilsonian is the only word. And - of course - the lyrics. As we know it's about that JFK thing. The whole thing, all of it. So yes, this is the ur-conspiracy we are dealing with, which all the other conspiracies use as the template. Given my well-advertised detestation of all things conspiracytheoretical, you might think I would want to give Libra the widest of berths. Being a contrarian means I couldn't. I take contrary opinions to myself too. I had to pay my dues. I had to stare the god damned conspiracy in its jowles, I had to rummage in its belly and pick over what it ate last night, ugh, all its grimy details, its filthy postulates and its mind-damaging Agatha-Christie's-Murder-on-the-Orient-Express conclusion that - gasp, look away now - they ALL did it!So I looked and stared and rummaged and poked and turned affadavits over in my hand and ran the tape found in the camera up Marilyn Monroe's backside, all of that. Ech. It's so displeasing. It does not make you a better person. This book is like dancing with Don DeLillo, and dancing with the young President, and dancing with the handsome man who has no face, and cannot be named, while ten quaaludes are slushing through your blood system and dark hands are pouring margaritas for you at each slow waltzlike revolution of the enormous ballroom from whose windows the glitterball reveals gun barrels glinting. Through all the slow-as-the-Devonian-Age build up to even the first faint gleamings of the plot to kill John Kennedy your brain gets reformed, your aesthetic sense gets taken down and reworked with minor chords replacing all the major ones, its like a dream but a weird lovely one, one of those thousand year long dreams you wake from on some Sundays when the world can take long minutes to suck back into place... how long have I been away? Whose face is on my own head now? It takes so long to read Libra, it's such a slog through all this stuff which might have gone down like that or might on the other hand, or not, or partly.What DD does in his gradually accelerating sarabande is to take the absolute standard CIA/Mafia/Teamsters/FBI/Cubans conspiracy and weave all the ghosts and spirits together, voices humming like a hive, all the five hundred characters, into a symphony of incidence and co-incidence wittingly but at the same time blindly moving like a giant shoal of fate towards the moving target in the limousine in Dallas on the day that Deep Purple by Nino Tempo and April Stevens was number one on the Billboard charts.This is a fantastic novel. The imposter "Don DeLillo" could never have written it.

Geoffrey Fox

Like Mario Vargas Llosa's La Fiesta del Chivo, Libra is a chillingly realistic novel that re-imagines and reconstructs a famous magnicide. But the more mysterious circumstances of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the particular obsessions of Don DeLillo, make this a very different book from Vargas Llosa's telling of the killing of Rafael Trujillo.According to DeLillo (through his stand-in character, Nicholas Branch),"the conspiracy against the President was a rambling affair that succeeded in the short term due mainly to chance." Many people with different motives were out to get Kennedy, from right-wing Aryan-nation types to non-ideological drifters desperate to leave a mark on history, ­ but (in this version) the most systematic pursuers were people who blamed him for the "loss" of Cuba and thought that his elimination would help them get that country back. These included embittered CIA cast-offs, mobsters, investors, and Cuban exile terrorists. You get the impression that even if they'd missed in Dallas, somebody was going to get JFK as long as he insisted on riding in an open car.DeLillo is fascinated by the narratives we make up to explain ourselves and the world around us. Mostly he is fascinated by those with the weirdest and most complicated narratives, narratives that need frequent adjustment because they keep bumping into contradictory realities. Lee Oswald struggles to persuade himself that he is on to some secret understanding of the world, gained from laborious reading (because he's dyslexic). Jack Ruby has convinced himself that he must always be a defender of the Jews and works very hard to silence his own suspicions that he may be homosexual. The rogue ex-CIA men, outwardly very calm, have an absolutely loony interpretation of history and their role in it. The most sensible character is Marina, Oswald's Russian wife, who can't take seriously any of her husband's elaborate poses and just wants him to teach her English and help her and their baby daughters survive in what for her is a strange new world.DeLillo has a very great novelistic strength that Vargas Llosa also exhibits (though more in the Peruvian novels than in Chivo): pitch-perfect dialogue. Ruby's scenes are the best. He is a club owner, big spender and always on the brink of bankruptcy. His conversations with himself, his strip-teasers, a mobster associate from whom he's seeking a loan, his feckless male roommate, and the cops he loves (he's always taking them big, cholesterol-laden sandwiches) are hilarious, fragmented, contradictory, and utterly believable. In fact, my one complaint about the book is that we have to wait too long for Ruby to appear. Here's a sample, from his meeting with Tony Astorina, chauffeur for the mobster:"Jack, I come by here for old time.""We used to swim on the Capri roof.""I'm saying. I didn't come by for the coffee.""Tony. I appreciate.""I come by because we go back together.""We got laid in adjoining rooms.""Havana, madonn'."--Etc. It's wonderful.We can't know whether or to what extent DeLillo's reconstruction of the messy, haphazard but ultimately successful plot to kill President John F. Kennedy is accurate, but it certainly is plausible. And it does create a coherent narrative that DeLillo offers as a "refuge," "a way of thinking about the assassination without being constrained by half-facts or overwhelmed by possibilities, by the tide of speculation that widens with the years." (From the "Author's Note" at end of book)P.S.: I read the book and wrote this review years ago; what brought it back to mind is my reading of Balzac, whose panoramic view of the social world and his ear for quirky dialogue reminded me especially of DeLillo (and maybe Vargas Llosa). I hope to develop these reflections on the sociological view in fiction in a future essay.

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