I come to DeLillo's Libra via James Ellroy's American Tabloid. Ellroy has his own take on the Kennedy assassination, but he praises DeLillo's take very highly. When Ellroy praises, I listen.
I see now why Ellroy loves the book. DeLillo's take is very persuasive and executed with high art. DeLillo's Oswald is an alienated loner, seeking to connect with something important. He's not sure what that is--a momentous event, a large historical process? He distrusts all governments--ours, the USSR's, the Mexicans'--and moves mercurially between ideologies. He serves in the military; he defects to Russia; he leaves Russia; he flees his mother though she is the only steady point in his life; he marries a Russian woman but beats her and drives her away. As those who would seek to exploit him realize, he is both vague and weak but sometimes strong and determined. He has been bullied and brutalized in the past but he has somehow survived; he could be the perfect tool.
It is an old principle in literary study that the more you get to know a character the more you like that character, even if the character is radically flawed. DeLillo is working against that principle and he does so successfully. The more we get to know Oswald . . . the more we get to know him. We do not like him; we simply begin to understand him as a figure more pathetic than malevolent, more sad than savage, more lost and doomed than the other characters in the shadows who populate his world.
The other dark forces--Castro-hating CIA agents, bitter Mafiosi, uber-weird right-wingers like David Ferrie--are beautifully realized and ultimately part of the strange stew in which Lee Harvey Oswald ultimately finds himself. In capturing the characters DeLillo is capturing the times. He does that very well. He also captures the places, particularly New Orleans and Dallas, though we get a feel for Miami as well.
DeLillo's structure is largely chronological, but he switches between characters and points of view and offers an overall impression that coheres very nicely. Much of the character depiction is phenomenological, with a summation of experiences, impressions, insights, glimpses, momentary realizations. This is very Ellroyesque and we can see DeLillo's influence in many ways.
Finally, this is a piece of historical fiction which is very plausible, very moving and very, very sad. The writing is generally exquisite. The characters and events (as Conrad would say) have been very carefully contemplated. In Heart of Darkness Conrad writes of the `brooding gloom' that hangs over London and its environs. If it's brooding gloom that you want, here, in Libra, is God's plenty.
- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Viking (3 November 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780670823178
- ISBN-13: 978-0670823178
- ASIN: 0670823171
- Product Dimensions: 50.8 x 50.8 x 50.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 839 g
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