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Oswald's "long and determined dream of high destiny."
on January 14, 2006
Mailer's "non-fiction novel" of Lee Harvey Oswald is stunning, not just for the new information he has uncovered about Oswald's life in Russia between 1959 and 1961, but because Mailer has ordered this information to provide true insight into Oswald's psyche. At nineteen and just out of the Marines when he flew to Moscow, Oswald intended to apply for Soviet citizenship, believing that Marxism was "purer" than capitalism. Remaining in the USSR for two and a half years, he married Marina and fathered a child before becoming disillusioned with his poverty and deciding to return to the US.
In the USSR, Oswald was under constant KGB surveillance, and Mailer's first-ever access to the KGB files and his effective use of them give the reader a sense of who Oswald was between the ages of twenty and twenty-two. All the everyday aspects of his life, his constant fights with Marina (and his eventual physical abuse of her), his belief that he is meant for "high destiny," and his inability to find success and purpose in his Russian life, despite his high ideals, show a young man frustrated in every aspect of life.
Using files from the KGB, Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and books written about Oswald by Gerald Posner, Priscilla McMillan, Jim Marr, and Carl Oglesby, Mailer presents an astounding amount of historical data. Keeping his prose style journalistic and factual, Mailer uses his talents as a Hollywood script-writer to create dramatic dialogues appropriate to the facts, bringing events to life and making this long novel move quickly. Making frequent use of flashbacks, he fills in background detail, recreating Oswald's life as a young boy in New York--his truancy, his assignment to a youth center (where he was picked on), his relationship with his overbearing mother, and his constant loneliness.
When Oswald returns to Dallas in 1963 with his wife and daughter, he still has dreams, still sees himself as "an instrument of history," and is still frustrated and unhappy. His claim of responsibility for the April, 1963, assassination attempt on Gen. Edwin Walker, a John Birch Society supporter, whether or not it is true, shows him acting out his belief that he is an instrument of history in the months leading up to Nov. 22, 1963. Six months after the assassination attempt on Walker, Oswald takes advantage of the accident of history that has brought the JFK motorcade past the window of the Depository where he works, and he acts out his self-declared destiny.
Presenting all the information available to him, Mailer maintains a balanced point of view. Though he mentions contacts Oswald made with the FBI, his attempt to go to Cuba, Mafia attempts to kill Castro, and Oswald's strange connection with Baron George De Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigre with some CIA ties, he draws no conclusions due to lack of evidence, leaving those to the reader. This fine novel organizes mountains of raw material, some of it new, to provide glimpses of who Oswald was and what may have motivated him. n Mary Whipple