(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

LIBRA is, in a sense, two novels in one. It is, first, a fictional re-creation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the events leading up to it. In the book’s opening pages, and at intervals throughout, the reader shares the consciousness of Lee Harvey Oswald. From Oswald’s point of view and others as well, DeLillo constructs his scenario of this still-enigmatic and much-disputed moment in American history. While DeLillo’s version departs from the conclusions of the Warren Report (he posits a second gunman and a fortuitous confluence of conspirators, including rogue CIA agents and Cuban exiles who want Fidel Castro overthrown), much of his speculation is grounded in the public record.

At the same time, LIBRA is a novel about the making of fiction and, more broadly, about the way in which people make sense of their lives. The novelist’s alter ego is Nicholas Branch, a retired senior analyst for the CIA, hired by the Agency in the 1980’s to write “the secret history” of the assassination. This device allows DeLillo to sketch for the reader the process he went through in order to re-create happenings of the 1960’s: sifting through the incredible profusion of evidence (he describes the twenty-six-volume Warren Report as “the Joycean Book of America, ... the novel in which nothing is left out”), discovering strange patterns of coincidence.

The world DeLillo depicts is one in which paranoia is quite justified. In this, LIBRA resembles the novels of Philip K. Dick, but it lacks one key ingredient: Unlike Dick, DeLillo fails to evoke the everyday reality against which the dread and menace he conveys so well would take on meaning.


Cain, William E. “Making Meaningful Worlds: Self and History in Libra.” Michigan Quarterly Review 29 (Spring, 1990): 275-287. A long, thoughtful, detailed review aimed at readers somewhat familiar with DeLillo’s other novels. Praises DeLillo’s “astute, off-beat, defamiliarizing curiosity about everyday life.”

DeLillo, Don. “American Blood:...

(The entire section is 855 words.)