November 22 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Countless books have been written on the subject (some fiction, a TON of nonfiction [some more speculative than others]), each one trying to find that one clue or piece of evidence that could finally put to rest our speculations about what actually happened on that day in Dallas.
Of course, there are many different ways in which this kind of story
can be told: as a series of flashbacks by eyewitnesses, as an event that
can hypothetically be stopped by a time-travelling good guy, or even as
a straight-up mystery requiring the mad skills of a seasoned detective.
I even found novels about Sherlock Holmes and Columbo working the case
(separately, of course), but that’s another story…
The novels that deal with the assassination range from postmodern to
positively bonkers. They all, though, seem to fall into two camps: the
“What If?” stories and the “What Really Happened?” stories. Here (in my
humble opinion) are the most interesting five.
“WHAT IF?” NOVELS
A Time to Remember by Stanley Shapiro
(Signet, 1988): Time-travel and tragedy provide the setting for this
novel, in which David Russell, a Dallas schoolteacher, uses a time
machine to return to 11/22/63 in hopes of preventing the assassination.
He’s not just doing this out of the kindness of his own heart, though;
Russell believes that if he can stop the assassination, the Vietnam War
will have never happened, and his soldier brother would never have been
one of its casualties.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
(Scribner, 2011): Yes, this is another time-travel novel, but it’s
STEPHEN KING, so clearly I had to include it. Here, an English teacher
from Maine steps through a portal in a diner (yeah, I know) to try to
prevent the assassination. He’s sent back to 1958 and becomes immersed
in the culture of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Of course, he also falls
in love. But the teacher’s friend, who sent him on this journey, is
counting on him, so off he goes.
Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination by Jim Lehrer
(Random House, 2013): I recently saw Lehrer discuss his novel on the
PBS News Hour (where he used to be anchor and is currently the executive
editor). Based on Lehrer’s own memories of that day while a Dallas
reporter, Top Down focuses on a Secret Service agent who is
haunted by his call to keep the bubble-top down on the presidential
limousine. Five years later, the reporter is asked to participate in a
reenactment of the assassination to determine what might have happened
had the top remained in place.
“WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?” NOVELS
Libra by Don DeLillo
(Penguin, 1988): I read this during my first year of college for a
course on postmodern literature, and BOY did it suck me in like a
ravenous black hole. But that’s DeLillo for you. Here, he seamlessly
blends fact and fiction, focusing on Oswald as the troubled man works
himself up to the belief that he is an agent of history. CIA operatives,
the Bay of Pigs disaster: it’s all here, and you find yourself
thinking, “what’s gonna happen???!!” while knowing full well how it
Umbrella Man (Jack Flippo series) by Doug Swanson (Berkley
Prime Crime, 1999): This is the fourth “Jack Flippo” book, and this
time it’s up to the Dallas detective to figure out if there really was
a second shooter that November day on or near the legendary “Grassy
Knoll”. Flippo’s been given a few frames of black-and-white film, but he
also must contend with some straaaaange characters, including a
con-artist who charges tourists for assassination re-creations. Yeah.
These five novels are just the tip of the iceberg. Have you read any
of these? Are there others you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!
(first posted on Book Riot 11/20/13)