Don DeLillo


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Libra Summary

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Libra is a 1988 novel by Don Delillo that tells of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. Included in the story is a speculative account of the assassination of President Kennedy. The book won The Irish Times’ first International Fiction Prize. The narrative begins with the early childhood of Oswald and his time in the United States Marine Corps. Later, Oswald defects to the Soviet Union and marries a Russian woman. He soon returns to the United States and ultimately takes his infamous place in history. Delillo presents the Kennedy assassination as a plot by former members of the CIA to prompt the government into war with Cuba.

Oswald is presented as a confused figure being used by three CIA agents who are upset over the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. He had a troubled childhood and was involved with communism, and was thus perceived as being against the American government. Oswald is shown as being used in a plot designed to make it look as if Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is plotting to kill John F. Kennedy. The conspirators are unaware that the president will die that day in Dallas, and Oswald is not aware that he is not the only shooter until the moment he witnesses the assassination of the president while peering through the scope of his rifle. Dilillo attempts to give a unique perspective to an event that has been forever analyzed by presenting Oswald through an unfamiliar sympathetic lens.

Larry Parmenter, T-Jay Mackey, and Walter “Win” Everett, Jr. are three old friends, all of whom have been removed from the CIA for reasons connected to the invasion at the Bay of Pigs. They have been drawn back together by the idea of rebuilding their reputations and rejoining the CIA. Win comes up with the idea that if it could be shown that Castro was attempting to have Kennedy assassinated it would force the president to rethink his position on Cuba. He suggests that they set in motion an assassination attempt during the president’s motorcade in Miami. The first step, he believes, is to find a person to use as a stooge who can be manipulated to present as an American who was upset enough to assassinate the president on behalf of Fidel Castro. This would protect the three former agents from being suspected of having committed the deed.

Upon leaving the Marines, Oswald makes his way to Russia with the intention of defecting. His application is accepted. There is a U2 plane crash which leads to Oswald being brought to Moscow to aid the Russians in questioning the pilot. It does not take long for Oswalds’s interest in Russia to fade and he brings his new wife back to America with him, along with their daughter. Once back in the United States, Oswald has a hard time obtaining work and taking care of his family. At this point Oswald begins to devise a plan with a man named Bobby Dupard with whom he was in military prison when they were in the Marines. Together they plan to assassinate General Walker, whose political position they object to. This is the same night that the CIA agents hatched their plot against President Kennedy. When Oswald takes a shot at the general, he misses.

Three hired assassins arrive on the day of the presidential assassination. One is behind a high-powered rifle that is aimed at the motorcade. Another tends to another assignment while the third waits in a car. The assassin takes a shot at the motorcade following each of the shots that Oswald takes. Oswald sees the assassination take place as he looks through his rifle scope. This throws him into a panic and it is hard for him to escape the School Book Depository without being seen by a police officer who is searching the building. Oswald proceeds to the boarding house where he is staying to pick up his pistol. Once back on the street he runs into a police officer. Oswald once again panics and kills the officer. As assassin is awaiting for Oswald but before his is able to act, the police take Oswald into custody. Oswald is questioned and beaten and then presented to the press. Among those with the press is strip club owner Jack Ruby who is close with the local police. Ruby closes his club for the weekend as a show of respect for the president. As he mourns, he is approached by a mobster who tells him that the outstanding debts Ruby has will be forgiven if he kills Oswald. Ruby sees doing it as an act of heroism, yet all that results is his connection to Oswald that will remain forever.

Publishers Weekly praised Libra, saying of the book, “The novel bears dissection on many levels, but is, taken whole, a seamless, brilliant work of compelling fiction. What makes Libra so unsettling is Delillo’s ability to integrate literary criticism into the narrative, commenting throughout on the nature and conventions of fiction itself without disturbing the flow of his story.”