In his ninth novel, DeLillo (White Noise) gives the American psyche what it has been awaiting for 25 years--an eerily convincing fictional speculation on the events leading up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Interestingly, DeLillo attributes an inordinate amount of luck to the fact that the motorcade appeared when and where it did. Several coincidences occurred to make the assassination possible, totally out of the control of those planning it. And yet it still worked.
The most fun part of reading it was noticing the ideas presented in the film JFK (filmed three years after Libra was published) appear in this book, making it a familiar territory. David Ferrie, in particular, is a major character and Guy Bannister appears often, also, as does Jack Ruby. De Lillo has obviously done his research.
Having just seen JFK again, I picked this up as sort of a "companion" novel and it worked well in that capacity. I felt that the movie did not really touch on so much of Oswald's life and that Libra filled in those gaps well.
DeLillo's sense of time and place are commendable and I think this was probably a good training ground for his epic Underworld, which has sat on my bookshelf, collecting dust for many years and which I will most likely now pick up and read.
In Libra, Oswald is not only the small meek looking man gunned down by Jack Ruby as a stunned nation was instantaneously transformed into subjects of the media panopticon, but also a dedicated Marxist, a US Marine, a husband, father and son. Thus, he gets what most assassins do not: a human face, if not a multitude of them. As the story progresses, Oswald's multiplicitous character is transformed and molded from "mere pocket litter", a "cardboard cutout" into a ready-made villain of a fading American ideal. How this transformation is accomplished, rather than the result of Oswald's actions, is really what Delillo is trying to fide an answer for. Whether or not he succeeds in discovering this depends upon the value that is given to history in modern society, and the implicit logic that this type of epistemological inquiry anticipates.
In Libra history is not simply an objective accounting of human accomplishment and action, but something constructed by men in small rooms. Libra is about understanding the influence of the apathetic forces of chance, randomness and cosmic disorder, which are then transformed into simplistic narratives that allow us all to sleep at night.
Libra is a book for anyone who wonders about the substance of American history and the ways in which this substance is created. It is a novel that throws into question many of our most cherished truths, one that requires the re-examination of the notions of human agency, identity, fate and ultimate nature of our postmodern reality. A great novel that offers many insightful answers as well as being a highly readable and engaging work of contemporary American fiction.