Wednesday, January 13, 2010

313. Libra – Don DeLillo

History: Published in 1988, this book is a portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Plot: The book begins by centering on Lee Harvey Oswald, his mother and his childhood. He doesn’t do well in school, skips a lot, and his mother struggles to maintain the household, moving frequently. As a teenager, hhe meets David Ferrie, buys a gun from him. He begins his self education - he reads and studys Marxism.
We follow his journey as he serves in the brutal American military, serves in a military prison. He defects to the Soviet Union and works in a dreary factory, where his potential for greatness remains undernourished. He tells the Russians what little he knows about the U-2 spy plane; shortly afterward, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers is shot down, and Oswald is called to identify him. He’s uncertain if the man is actually Powers, but once Oswald has served his purpose he’s shipped back to the factory. Disillusioned, he returns to the U.S., where his discharge from the Marines has been changed to dishonorable.
He marries a Russian girl, Marina. He beats her regularly. They struggle and they are very poor. They have a child, a girl.
The FBI nags him; his wife laments Mother Russia; his boss fires him for incompetence. He attempts to enter Cuba via Mexico, but he’s refused at the Cuban Embassy. Eventually, he runs out of places to turn.
Intermixed with the telling of Oswald’s struggles, Libra also considers the men who might have been involved in the plot to kill a president, moving inside the heads of George de Mohrenschildt, crime lord Carmine Latta, Jack Ruby, Agency spook T.J. Mackey and most stunningly David Ferrie, the odd hairless man somehow always at the center of everything. Ferrie was a man who might have been famously eccentric on his own, what with his rare disease that rendered him completely hairless, and resultant crazy wigs and glued on eyebrows, and pilot's uniforms, and open homosexuality, and links to crime figures, gunrunners, and other figures not normally given to mingling with openly gay wig-wearing hairless men.
In the end, it is determined that Oswald was a patsy, that the CIA really did not want to kill the President, but wanted to miss him and blame the assignation attempt on Cuba, to start a war with Cuba.
Jack Ruby kills Oswald, and dies of cancer in 1967.
Review: Since there is so much information and misinformation and just plain false information about the man who never reached 30, someone who tries to write about him, fictionally, without lapsing into chaos takes special talent. Delillo paints a character who inspires at least a level of respect for his convictions. This is no apology and no indictment of Lee Harvey Oswald, it is a character study that is careful not to make bold conclusions but just present enough information for the reader to do this her/himself. Libra manages to get into Oswald's head and yet leave him a mystery because DeLillo knows the degree to which some men are enigmas even to themselves. Libra assumes a conspiracy. In order for the story to be a page turner, it has to assume that, or it would be boring and about a third as long. And, we need not forget, that the novel is found in the fiction section of bookstores and libraries. I really like the way DeLillo consistently writes and describes.
Opening Line: “This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track.”
Closing Line: “It belonged to her now, and to history.”
Quotes: “If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme. Silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act."
Rating: Good.

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