§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Libra by Don DeLillo

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Libra by Don DeLillo

(I read this one last month, before White Noise, but forgot to post. ) This one is brilliant. I always liked DeLillo but had stopped reading him after he got popular. Until I read Underworld with a reading group a while ago and loved it. It was the publication of DeLillo’s latest, Falling Man, that got me to go back and read the others. Someone in one of my bookgroups remarked that DeLillo had been writing about terrorism in some manner for a long time and I realized that was true. So I decided to have something to compare his 9/11 novel with when I read it, deciding to read Libra, White Noise, and Mao II.

I’ve read a fair number of analyses of the Kennedy assassination and besides I was an adult when it happened—newly married and in grad school. I didn’t see Jack Ruby shoot Oswald—we didn’t have TV, but my husband and I were in the kitchen where I was making bread that morning, and listening to the radio. I did of course see the rerun on TV when we went to the Union later in the day to stand in the clusters of students watching the various TV sets in the main lounges.

I knew most of the details of Oswald’s life but had no idea who Oswald was. That’s what DeLillo filled out and I can see why Oswald has been considered the novelist’s greatest character. The title is the astrological sign for balance and harmony—Oswald’s birthday was Oct 18th. And Oswald was the perfect dupe to build a conspiracy around. Bright but not too bright. An independent thinker. Born suspicious and angry at being made to feel inferior. Susceptible to anyone who even pretended to take him seriously. Seriously—the character if not, of course, the real person—trying to find a balance between East and West, the US and the USSR, both of which he both loved and hated, wanted to be loyal to but felt betrayed by—and was betrayed by.

The characters around Oswald are fleshed out as well: his mother who whines about how hard she tried to keep her family together. Marina, marooned in an enemy country with two small children, doomed to be the wife of the most notorious traitor of the century. Jack Ruby plus a bunch of CIA and pro-Cuba types who really were in the background of the assassination and whose plots are given substance in the novel.

The better-known characters in the assassination story—Kennedy, Jackie, Johnson, Connolly—are mere cardboard walk-ons. Marina may identify with Jackie who’d just lost a baby, but for the most part DeLillo leaves the major players to “real” history. And “real” history is not what he intended to write, admitting that he’d altered much in the historical record and made no attempt to provide any factual answers.


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