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force of the soul in the tunnels of New York.” That is about as lyrical as DeLillo ever gets; his usually minimalist style is wound down even tighter for this book, a tour de force of constriction, understandable enough in that his narrative is foredoomed and his central character is a virtual cipher of listlessness, a modern blankness moving through time. \(Imagine, by contrast, a historical novel centered on John Wilkes warning; Libra has been very highly praised, but I’m betting that the general reader is going to find this very heavy going. DeLillo mutes and deflects every heroic or melodramatic possibility \(Kennedy himself a study of a doomed man in a deadening world. In a gesture that shows DeLillo’s ear for contemporary croak-language, he quotes a real or imaginary social worker on the young Oswald: “Questioning elicited the information that he feels almost as if there is a veil between him and other people through which they cannot reach him, but he prefers this veil to remain intact.” Though we follow the antihero throughout his abrupt life, the veil never quite lifts. We hardly know why Oswald does anything, because he hardly knows he is still inventing his own motives in his Dallas jail cell but DeLillo quotes a letter to his brother which suggests that he thought the veil might lift, if he could only become part of History: “Happiness is taking part in the struggle, where there is no borderline between one’s own personal world, and the world in general. ” For DeLillo, Oswald succeeded in his grand but vague ambition because he fit a piece in the plot of his time. Using the available facts from the various investigations, he traces Oswald’s actual movements and then imagines how it might have happened that he became a murderer of convenience. He describes a small group of semi-renegade CIA men, bitter about the Bay of Pigs, who first decide that an attempted but failed assassination could be laid at Castro’s door after all, Kennedy had regularly been trying to bump off Fidel resulting in a full-scale war against Cuba. But at the level of the actual hit-men Guy Bannister’s New Orleans’s rightists, and the Miami Alpha 66 crowd such nuances are quickly lost. If an attempted assassination is a good idea, why not a real one? Wasn’t Kennedy the Great Betrayer, who lost his nerve at the crucial moment? America’s Cuban psychosis, persistent into the shadow world of Oliver North, permeates the novel and indeed post-’60s America. But the plot needs ,a patsy, and Oswald is manna from heaven. One of those solitary “leftists” whose major politics is paranoia, Oswald has emigrated to Russia and returned with a Russian wife, and in New Orleans had created a one-man “Fair Play for Cuba” Committee, with offices in the same building as Bannister’s right-wing watchdog group. The usual conspiracytheoretician sees the Bannister connection as clear evidence of a calculated rightist plot, but DeLillo realizes that in the half-lit world of extremist politics, right and left often overlap and coincide, and Oswald seemed to be one of those for whom the grand action is more important than theoretical niceties. In the right hands, he could be shoved to murder, and yet be convinced he had chosen it himself. \(Later, Jack Ruby will be a similarly willing pawn, as DeLillo recognizes the type: the American boy-man By the time DeLillo is through, there is an eerie inevitability to the assassination that is only partly a consequence of the given facts. Imperial America abroad and the increasingly militarized culture at home had created a nightmare world of paramilitary camps, racist hooligans and propagandists, right-wing gun-runners in search of holy anti-communist wars, politicians who lived off foreign blood and a ready smile. One remembers the phrase of Malcolm X that so enraged us all at the time, that seems so tritely descriptive after 25 years: there were chickens here coming home to roost. Our own world seems, still, like that one, only more so, and now the shadow-world, dark reflector of daytime obsessions, has elected one of its own. DeLillo makes much of the half-smile that always seemed on Oswald’s face, as though he were keeping his own counsel, reciting a private joke that was his alone. To the end he seemed to think he knew better, that his actions were never what they appeared to be to ordinary mortals, that there was a deeper pattern he was fulfilling to which only he was privy. Libra suggests that in this, as in many things, Oswald was quite American. We too might have chosen another path in the post-war world, besides shoring up the old Western Empire, filling its voids with our innocents and mercenaries, our shadow-men who would refuse to fade away, who would instead become our ghostly and unofficial Praetorian Guard: who would act out our murderous desires, and now will not be disowned. It is comforting to think things might have been different, but DeLillo’s cold and immaculate, almost anoxic book suggests otherwise. I like my art with a little more breathing space, some airy acknowledgment that ordinary life in these States still has pockets of spontaneous joy. Significantly, the last book I read as convincingly bleak as this one was Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. DeLillo is certainly not our only major novelist who has begun to believe that the culture itself is conspiratorial, that they’re stealing all our breath. Libra is welltooled and air-tight as the space shuttle; the only thing holding out the vacuum is a stonyeyed and formal brilliance. THE Available at the following locations: Bookstop 9070 Research Austin Brazos Bookstore 2314 Bissonett Houston College News 1101 University Lubbock Custom Photographic Labs 601 W. Martin Luther King Austin Daily News & Tobacco 309-A Andrews Highway Midland Guild Books 2456 N. Lincoln Avenue Chicago, Illinois Guy’s News Stand 3700 Main Street Houston Las Manitas Cafe 211 Congress Austin Old World Bakery 814 W. 12th Street Austin Paperbacks & Mas 1819 Blanco Road San Antonio The Stoneleigh P 2926 Maple Avenue Dallas Student Center Midwestern State Univ. 3400 Taft Boulevard Wichita Falls Wheatsville Food Coop 3101 Guadalupe Austin THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11