"Libra" by Don DeLillo (1988)
"He would put someone together, build an identity, a skein of persuasion and habit, ever so subtle. He wanted a man with believable quirks. He would create a shadowed room, the gunman's room, which investigators would eventually find, exposing each fact to relentless scrutiny, following each friend, relative, casual acquaintance into his own roomful of shadows. We lead more interesting lives than we think..."
Don DeLillo is an American author best known for his novel White Noise. Libra, the direct successor to White Noise, came out three years after.
In Libra DeLillo explores the Kennedy assassination and the role Lee Harvey Oswald might have played in it. As you might expect, the novel is rich in conspiracies and speculation as to what might or might not have motivated various factions to kill the President. Throughout the novel Oswald, a pathetic figure, is both seduced by ideas and driven to make himself a "man of history."
In tone Libra is a bit more subdued, a bit more literal than White Noise. It's also, somewhat paradoxically, less sweeping in scope. Where White Noise was a commentary on America as a whole, Libra is more a study of a single personality and how larger forces can converge around that personality.
So is it good? Well, in my opinion it could have been a lot shorter. The continual meditations on various plots can be somewhat masturbatory, and certain episodes from Oswald's life could have been omitted. The ending of the book also falls flat, and Jack Ruby's role (and motivations) are never satisfactorily explained. It just doesn't seem to have the weight of White Noise, perhaps because the author was too worried about authenticity.
Even so, if you've read White Noise you'll probably like this one. I just wouldn't be in a tremendous hurry to read it. You'll have already seen interpretations of these events in popular culture, movies like Oliver Stone's JFK or James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. These other interpretations have, I must say, a lot more impact than whatever DeLillo was trying to do in Libra, and for this reason I consider the novel something of a failed experiment.
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