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Literary Xanax

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | October 1, 2009 |

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | October 1, 2009 |

So, the good news is that I finally found a cure for my chronic insomnia. For serious, every time I read this I fell asleep. I’m blaming Mailer for The Great Nap Debacle of Last Sunday, wherein I took not just one but two lengthy naps, and was awake till the wee hours, when it occurred to me to pick up the book again. Bingo. Out like a light. This shit is better than Xanax.

So anyway. I was feeling guilty about all the trash I’ve been stuffing into my brain lately, so I wanted to redeem myself. This Guy Formerly Known as My Stepfather had this for years, and was kind enough to leave it when he vacated the premises. I spotted it and said, “Nicole, grab that. You need to make penance for all that Nora Roberts noise you’ve been reading.” In the future, the next time I tell myself to do something, could one of you hit me in the head? ‘Kthanksbye.

This book is exhaustive. I mean, really and truly. I read all 791 pages, because I do not like to give up on books, but my stars, I was more confused at the end than at the beginning. Like, trying to solve a physics problem confused. I wasn’t even sure where I was. (Extensive research led me to the conclusion that I was in my bedroom.) Mailer interviewed family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues of Lee Harvey Oswald; he pored over and frequently references the Warren Commission testimony; he took excerpts of other books written about LHO; he incorporated letters and other writings, both to and by Oswald. Oswald’s time in Russia, where he married Marina and had his first child, takes up nearly the first third of the book. His military history with the Marines is dissected. His job history is investigated. KGB and FBI records are made public. Mailer leaves no stone unturned in his quest to find the man who killed JFK (I don’t even want to go into conspiracy theories). He not only delves into Oswald’s past, but that of his wife, her family, and his mother. He goes back decades and decades to the beginning of the 20th century. He outlines the differences between various intelligence agencies and the perceptions of Oswald gleaned by said agencies.

The problem is, Oswald was a puzzle in life, and remains a series of contradictions in death. He was a failure who thought that he was something special; he renounced his US citizenship in Moscow (but not formally) only to return to the States a few years later, his experiment with communism a wash; he may or may not have been gay; he was a gregarious recluse. There’s just too much information, and there is never a satisfactory answer to the question “Who was this man?” Again, this was no fault of Mailer’s. It was just a question that will never be answered. No one could get a handle on Oswald before Jack Ruby put a bullet in his belly, so how could anyone possibly do it when the man’s secrets died with him?

I’m going to keep the book on hand as a weapon for the zombie invasion. They’re coming. Just you wait.

Nicole Fuscia is a book critic for Pajiba. She lives in Philadelphia, where she listens to the soothing hip hop melodies of Bel Biv Devoe and pursues her lifelong goal: To perfect the Turk dance.