Don DeLillo’s novel “Libra”
Don DeLillo’s gripping and brilliantly written novel “Libra”( 1988) tells the disturbing life-story of Lee Harvey Oswald. It presents him as the tool of three disaffected CIA operatives who want to galvanise the USA into retaliation against Cuba by engineering the assassination of President Kennedy and ensuring it is attributed to Cuban agents. The story is framed by the investigation of a minor bureaucrat who ploughs his way through mountains of documents after the assassination. ‘There is enough mystery in the facts as we know them’, he thinks, ‘enough of conspiracy, loose ends, dead ends, multiple interpretations.’ (58) Many allegedly involved met mysterious deaths after the event. It’s curious, reflects one character: ‘The dangerous secrets used to be held outside the government. Plots, conspiracies, secrets of revolution, secrets of the end of the social order. Now it’s the government that has a lock on the secrets that matter.’ (68) Another character tries in vain to aleert the government in advance. ‘Is it really so strange that she uses the word conspiracy? She is only trying to analyze a whole condensed program of things that are not correct.’ (200) ‘Plots’, muses another, ‘carry their own logic. There is a tendency of plots to move towards death. (221) A right-wing speaker tells his audience about ‘the Control Apparatus’ that paralyses ‘individual lives, frustrating evety normal American ambition’. (282) He might have been writing about ‘Doctor Strangelove’, a conspiracy movie of a kind. Jack Ruby, a character described in some detail, shoots Owald in an act of individual violence, but his act is widely seen as part of a conspiracy: ‘If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme….A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act.’ Alternative history as fiction. Facts are brittle things, says one character; DeLillo thinks technology may provide a definitive answer, but there are few definitive answers in history.