Don Delillo’s Libra

BY THERESA SMITH

libra_first_edI’ll probably be in the minority with this, but I finally picked up Delillo’s Libra, and I think it’s the best I’ve read of his. I read almost half of it in one sitting, the kind of read a book hasn’t compelled me to do in months or more. I’ve always had trouble really “getting” Delillo. White Noise has interesting ideas, but those ideas are foregrounded, making the plot and characters too satirical for my taste. Falling Man is better (check out the review in the new issue of Sycamore), but I didn’t think the story lived up to the premise. And Underworld is great, but it’s a monster of a book.

Libra is a manageable size, and unlike White Noise, the ideas are left in the background, in the subtext. On the surface is simply a compelling story, an imagined narrative for the JFKassassination that stretches from the early 1950s to the 1980s, from Dallas to Miami to the Bronx to Russia to Japan. Delillo gives Oswald a spot-on inner life, and the opening scene of Oswald riding the Subway from the Bronx to Brooklyn is especially haunting after last week’sAWP vacation. But as you’d expect from Delillo, the ideas are there, and I say Libra’s the best I’ve read of his because here form and content meld perfectly. He never lets go of the characters, the story, but the ideas about how we write history, reality as a construct, and postmodern whatever shine in the subtext. The entire book is a constructed reality, and part of the conspiracy involves CIA agents trying to fake an assassination attempt on JFK. Those ideas work in tandem with the plot, which makes the book absolutely compelling. And though it’s been exactly 20 years since it was published, and we have new conspiracy theories to compete with Kennedy’s assassination, Libra not only feels relevant, but necessary.