JR Foley

     Lee Harvey Oswald is as American as Davy Crockett. If it ever turns out that he was indeed a patsy, that he had nothing to do with the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy, we'll never forgive him. We'll obliterate him. Our outrage at this betrayal will unperson him faster than any of those burn holes in Orwell's 1984.

     From the moment of his arrest in a Dallas movie theater at 1:50 p.m. CST, November 22, 1963, Lee Oswald has been less a subject of American history than a creature of American imagination.

     As Lone Assassin he's a rugged individualist, a self-made man, a Horatio Alger whose career is not rags to riches but nobody to World-Historical-Person. Underdog to Killroi-Was-Here. He's an arch-democratic mover and shaker, an apotheosis of the Common Man. He's one resolute Have-Not who leveled the most glamorous Have of the American 20th Century. He's an American Immortal. His execution by Citizen Jack Ruby sealed that.

     Oswald-the-Lone-Assassin is the only coherent Oswald we have. He is, in a functional sense, a multi-media creation of kinescope, photography, and magazine columns. As Mary and Ray La Fontaine point out in their ground-breaking Oswald Talked: The New Evidence in the JFK Assassination (Pelican Publishing Company, 1996; pp. 45-50), not the Warren Report but LIFE magazine established the public image of Lee Harvey Oswald. He became the lonely, withdrawn malcontent in the first article, by Thomas Thompson, on November 29, 1963. He stood fully revealed in the infamous grainy backyard photo, pistol on hip, rifle held up in one hand, the Militant fanned in the other, in Donald Jackson's "The Evolution of an Assassin," on February 21, 1964. Excerpts from Oswald's so-called "Historic Diary" of his sojourn in the Soviet Union appeared July 10, 1964. The October 2, 1964, cover story on the just-issued Warren Report seemed more than anti-climactic: the Warren Commission had simply confirmed what LIFE had been telling us all along.

     But the Warren Report's contribution to the legend of Lee Harvey Oswald was also more than the most authoritative seal of approval. LIFE could continually refresh the legend only for those who liked to keep and pull out old magazines. The Report would remain available on public and private library bookshelves for generations. For the legend to keep alive the Warren Report would have to preserve it in haunting prose, and that is precisely what it has done.

     If Oswald-the-Lone-Assassin is not an original creation of the Warren Commission's Report, it is a recreation surpassing the original. I mean especially Chapters VII ("Lee Harvey Oswald: Background and Possible Motives") and XIII ("Biography of Lee Harvey Oswald"). I don't know which Commission staffers wrote these chapters, but they were highly skilled craftsman.

     Listen to this from Chapter XIII:

Marina and June [the Oswald's 18-month old daughter] departed with Mrs. Ruth Paine for Irving [Texas] on the morning of September 23 [1963]. Before she left, Oswald told Marina that she should not tell anyone about his impending trip to Mexico. Marina kept this secret until after the assassination. On the previous day, Oswald's landlord had seen Mrs. Paine's car being packed and had asked Oswald, whose rent was about 15 days overdue, whether he was leaving. Oswald told him that Marina was leaving temporarily but that he would remain. A neighbor testified that on the evening of September 24, he saw Oswald, carrying two pieces of luggage, hurriedly leave the Magazine Street apartment and board a bus. Though uncertain of the exact date, a city busdriver recalls that at the same time of day and at the same location he picked up a man who was carrying two suitcases of different sizes, and helped him place them so that they would not disturb the other passengers. The driver remembers that the man asked directions to the Greyhound bus station. He discharged the passenger at an intersection where he could board a Canal Street car and transfer to another bus which would go past the Greyhound and Continental Trailways stations. The landlord found Oswald's apartment vacant on September 25.
                                           (Associated Press edition, 1964, p. 320)

     This is solid who-what-when-where reportage. But notice how the bits of testimony form an image and let it resonate, a figure mysterious yet clear: a manipulative little liar absconding with two suitcases on a bus.

     Earlier in Chapter XIII there is the following passage from the account alleging Oswald, in April 1963, shot his rifle at retired Gen. Edwin Walker, a notorious right-wing barnstormer. The allegation is based almost entirely on Marina's testimony, but also on photos of Walker's house said to be taken by Oswald's camera and found among his effects. The letter referred to is an undated note in Russian (discovered in Ruth Paine's house over a week after Oswald's death) instructing Marina what to do if Oswald should be arrested. It does not mention Walker, or any intent to shoot anyone; nor does it mention any intent to conduct an anonymous but arrest-risky one-man demonstration in favor of Fidel Castro outside a Dallas department store shortly before Oswald decamped for New Orleans -- a possibility conceded in the Warren Report (p. 176, A.P. edition).

When Oswald told Marina what he had done, she became angry and made him promise never to repeat such an act. She testified that she kept his letter, intending to give it to the authorities if he repeated his attempt. He told Marina that he was sorry he had missed Walker and said that the shooting of Walker would have been analogous to an assassination of Hitler. Several days later, the De Mohrenschildts visited the Oswalds, bringing an Easter present for June. During the visit, Jeanne De Mohrenschildt saw the rifle and told her husband about it. Without any knowledge of the truth, De Mohrenschildt jokingly intimated that Oswald was the one who had shot at Walker. Oswald apparently concluded that Marina had told De Mohrenschildt of his role in the attempt and was visibly shaken.
                                                                          (AP edition, p. 316)

     No need to recount how this tale has been shredded by assassination scholars, nor even the piquant fact that White Russian entrepreneur Georges De Mohrenschildt later admitted to being closely connected with the CIA. But again notice how the recitation of bits of testimony adds muted strokes to the curiously emotionless portrait of a man capable of political violence; then suddenly brings the flat strokes to life with a surprising, powerfully concise detail: "visibly shaken." Which acts to confirm for the reader the unstated emotional turbulence of an assassin-to- be. (Inspection of the witnesses' full testimonies reveals "visibly shaken" to be the staff writer's phrase, precipitating with imaginative license into a single image the uncertain and conflicting accounts of the "post-Easter visit" delivered by the two De Mohrenschildts.)

     Here's one last passage, from Chapter VII:

     That night [November 21, 1963] Oswald went to bed before his wife retired. She did not speak to him when she joined him there, although she thought that he was still awake. The next morning he left for work before anyone else arose. For the first time he left his wedding ring in a cup on the dresser in his room. He also left $17 in a wallet in one of the dresser drawers. He took with him $13.87 and the long brown package that Frazier and Mrs. Randle saw him carry and which he was to take to the School Book Depository.
                                                                          (AP edition, p. 183)

     In Marina and Lee (Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Harper & Row, 1977, p. 525), Marina remembers the sum left in the wallet as $170, not $17; but here I am bogging down in the infinite pixels of this massive news-photo mural. (As in: "How'd he come by that wad of dough -- savings? shrewd investments??") It's the wedding ring in the cup and the long brown package that are meant to catch our imaginations, and they do.

     In Death in the Afternoon (The Scribner Library, 1932, 1960) Ernest Hemingway said:

     If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."
                                                                                        (p. 192)

     What is laconically left unsaid in the Warren Report narratives seems very subtly to breathe the known. This is the result of high craft. But for over 30 years critics have demonstrated the leads the Commission staff adroitly avoided, the enormous mass of witness testimony and things left uninvestigated, uninterrogated, unknown. In fact, the breathing spaces in the narrative are well-wrought holes ... "hollow places" letting on as the seven-eighths of the iceberg below the surface.

     Yet the Warren Report narratives continue to cast their spell, and not only on the casual reader. They give us a "compleat" Oswald no other source has, and not a marginal but a mainstream character at that. They give him to us straight out of the center of the American imagination.

     We can find anticipations of Lee Harvey Oswald throughout American literature. Remember Huck Finn deciding to go to hell rather than do the "Morally Right" thing and turn in Jim, the runaway slave? In post-Civil War America, of course, when Huckleberry Finn was first published, that mortal sin was, in the eyes of its Yankee readers, no sin at all, but a heroic act of virtue, entirely constructive rather than the opposite. But to any real-life Huck in Missouri and Arkansas in the 1840's it certainly would have been an extraordinary, not to say revolutionary, self-sacrificial deed -- at least until Tom Sawyer descended from the heavens.

     Monomaniacal Captain Ahab damning himself and his crew to kill Moby Dick presents an easier Oswald analogue; although like (Daniel Boone avatar) Natty Bumppo, James Fenimore Cooper's loner-with- long-gun-but-also-faithful-Indian-companion-Chingachgook, Ahab needed co-conspirators.

     (Then again, perhaps the truer analogue would be Moby Dick himself! A blank, violent force of nature whose possibilities are so ambiguous, so contradictory (witness famous Chapter 42, "The Whiteness of the Whale"), that no ultimate meaning can be written in. So -- given the little we know about the accused assassin, all the contradictory testimony and evidence, and how much has been called into doubt -- Lee Harvey Oswald can be whatever we want him to be ... so long as Kennedy is coming, and a rifle is handy.)

     In 20th Century America, Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths, unlike Ahab, did not need a co-conspirator; but then his American Tragedy was closer to a crime of passion, drowning one girlfriend (poor and pregnant) to free himself to marry another (rich and pretty). In Oswald's own doomed romance with Marina Prusakova, on the other hand, there is more of an echo, dissonant yet poignant, of Gatsby and Daisy. As for Hemingway, the one major American writer Oswald seems to have read (The Old Man and the Sea), traces of the archetypal Oswald figure glint here and there in major characters, but more often in minor ones like Philip Rawlings, the correspondent-cum-Loyalist-counterspy in the play "The Fifth Column," and the young Cuban revolutionary in To Have and Have Not.

     Since the assassination, myriad plot possibilities have inspired a bottom shelf of potboilers. But not until Don DeLillo with Libra (Viking Penguin, 1988) did a major writer come to grips with the new white whale, Lee Harvey Oswald himself. DeLillo's Oswald goes in and out of focus (it's his Jack Ruby who steals the show). But DeLillo does try to imagine a conspiracy scenario (CIA renegades planning, at first, a fake assassination attempt, whose paper trail will lead to Castro, provoking a U.S. invasion of Cuba) in which Oswald can figure as loner, patsy, and joint participator, all three.

     In the second major Oswald novel, Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (Random House, 1995), Norman Mailer, in one respect at least, goes considerably further. He discovers in Lee Oswald the capability of a near-tragic hero. This Oswald, necessarily a Lone Assassin, is a man determined to change the world for the better -- by any means necessary.

     ... The world was in crisis and the social need was to create conditions for recognizing that there had to be a new kind of society. Otherwise, the malignant effects of capitalism, added to the Soviet degradation of Communism, were going to reduce people to the point where they lost all will to create a better world.
     An explosion at the heart of the American establishment's complacency would be exactly the shock therapy needed to awaken the world.
                                                                                        (p. 781)

     Kennedy was chosen, not because Oswald hated him, but despite the fact Oswald liked and admired him. Because Kennedy "had the ability to give hope to the American ethos," because he was "not a bad President ... [but] too good," killing Kennedy was an act that would produce the revolutionary shock this Oswald took it upon himself to give the world.

     It is not an original perception of Mailer's that Oswald might have shot Kennedy to make himself a name in history. That is precisely the closest to a motive the Warren Commission could find. Mailer gives full credit to Priscilla Johnson McMillan, in Marina and Lee, for the further perception that Oswald might have wished the assassination to "decapitate the American political process" and thus "deal capitalism [a] final mortal blow."

     Mailer's contribution to this picture of Oswald is the choice Oswald would have faced after executing the assassination. "He might not only be the instrument [of history] but the leading man." He could be leading man "only if he was captured and stood trial. If he succeeded in the act but managed to remain undiscovered, obscurity would be his lot again." On trial, Oswald would have a bully pulpit not only to propound his views but to further alter the shape of the future.

     If he failed to escape, well, he could tell his story. He could becloud the issue and possibly be acquitted, and if it came to twenty years in prison, he would be able to forge his political agenda -- even as Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin had done. Should he face capital punishment, then, at the least, he would be immortal.
                                                                                        (p. 782)

     But by killing Patrolman J.D. Tippit during flight from the assassination scene, in Mailer's view, Oswald lost his jury and his cause. Some might listen to his ideas if he killed a President, but "nearly all [Americans] would be repelled by any gunman who would mow down a cop, a family man -- that act was small enough to void interest in every large idea he wished to introduce." Proclaiming himself giant-killer thus foreclosed, Oswald now had to save his skin for a more revolutionary day by claiming frame-up: "I'm a patsy."

     Such are Mailer's concluding speculations. Only by refusing to sink into the welter of evidence is Mailer able to keep his gaze high and clear; only by confining himself to witness interviews (mostly in Warren Commission hearings) and Oswald's (apparent) own writings can he train that gaze on the profile of a likely assassin. But unlike almost every other writer on the assassination I've read, Mailer is quite straightforward about his biases and the traps they set him.

     Three-fourths of the way through Oswald's Tale, the author halts for a warning. Although the book began with no fixed conclusion -- "indeed ... with a prejudice in favor of the conspiracy theorists" -- its plan to "take Oswald on his own terms as long as that was possible" has inescapably produced "a hypothesis: Oswald was a protagonist, a prime mover, a man who made things happen ... a figure larger than others would credit him for being.

     "Indeed," to quote this crucial admission amply:

this point of view has by now taken hold to a point where the writer would not like to relinquish it for too little. There is the danger! ... It is possible that the working hypothesis has become more important to the author than trying to discover the truth.
     For if Oswald remains intact as an important if dark protagonist, one has served a purpose: The burden of a prodigious American obsession has been lessened, and the air cleared of an historic scourge -- absurdity. So long as Oswald is a petty figure, a lone twisted pathetic killer who happened to be in a position to kill a potentially great President, then, ... America is cursed with an absurdity. There was no logic to the event and so sense of balance in the universe. ...
     ...If a figure as large as Kennedy is cheated abruptly of his life, we feel better, inexplicably better, if his killer is also not without size. Then, to some degree, we can also mourn the loss of possibility in the man who did the deed. Tragedy is vastly preferable to absurdity. Such is the vested interest that adheres to perceiving Oswald as a tragic and infuriating hero (or, if you will, anti-hero) rather than as a snarling little wife abuser or a patsy.
                                                                                   (pp. 605-607)

     In a "special message" for the Franklin Library edition of Oswald's Tale Mailer is even more revealing:

     ...I hoped to understand Lee Harvey Oswald. For three decades, he had existed in the American mind as either a characterless victim or an unbalanced loner marooned in a set of plots and scenarios which depended very little on him and whom he might be. Yet, for a novelist (let us say, a good novelist), character is more important than plot. No book with a plot can survive long as literature if its characters are empty. So, I wanted to understand Oswald at least as well as I comprehend Anna Karenina or Sister Carrie, Madame Bovary or Studs Lonigan, Jake Barnes or Rabbit Angstrom. If Oswald could come alive for me, then I might begin to comprehend which plots and scenarios were able to fit him.

     This is, in part, why with deliberate care I call Oswald's Tale, for all its non-fiction content, a novel; though, to be more accurate, it's really the notebook for a novel. Confronting this "American mystery," Mailer is less interested in the evidence of the case than in penetrating the whiteness of the whale. Conceding the immense difficulties of sifting evidence expert witnesses have hotly disputed for over 30 years, Mailer ignores most of it to ask, not so much Did Oswald do it? (though inevitably he faces this question), but What kind of man was Oswald?

     Ignoring the evidence, though, does involve one in a paradox peculiar to this case. Oswald-of-the-Evidence is a disintegration of Oswald-the-Lone-Assassin. But what can you do? Focus on Oswald, and the evidence fades; focus on the evidence, and Oswald fades.

     I wish Mailer had sunk a little bit into the welter of evidence -- at least revisited the items he tallied in his September 1966 Village Voice review of Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment (Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1966) (collected in Existential Errands). There he displayed sharp skepticism, for instance, about Oswald's implication in the Tippit shooting. In Oswald's Tale, by contrast, he accepts the Warren Report version without a glance at that same evidence. Would that he had refreshed his recollection with a dip into the Tippit chapter of Henry Hurt's Reasonable Doubt (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1986, pp. 139-169)!

     Yet Mailer has not embraced the Warren Report uncritically. For almost 30 years he has expressed doubts about it and about Commission procedures and conclusions, favoring, as he admits, the probability of a conspiracy but advancing no theory of his own nor endorsing anyone else's. In Oswald's Tale he continues to be highly critical of the FBI investigation and Warren Commission proceedings, and equally critical of their keenest defender, Gerald Posner (Case Closed, Random House, 1993). He has also kept his ambitions modest. Viewing the Kennedy assassination as "the largest mountain of mystery in the Twentieth Century, an obsessive event that [lives] in my own country's psyche like a black hole in space absorbing great funds of energy and never providing any satisfactory answer," Mailer did not hope to discover a smoking gun, but only to "build a base camp higher on this mountain ... than anyone before me ... [so] that others in years to come could make a final ascent on the summit." (Franklin Library "special message.")

     In the end, although it has become "difficult not to believe [Oswald] pulled the trigger," for Mailer the case remains open, as he remains open to, though very doubtful of, the possibility of co-conspirators.

     But again this open-endedness is merely a concession to the Oswald-of-the-Evidence, the evidence-faded Oswald, who does not fire Mailer's imagination. Only the Lone Assassin can fire the good novelist's imagination. Evidence alone cannot reveal the solution to the mystery, or decypher the ambiguous whiteness of the whale.

     To penetrate the whiteness is to get into Oswald's head. As a 70th birthday present, fortune dropped into Mailer's lap KGB transcripts of surveillance of Oswald in Minsk. With these Mailer thought he had found a missing angle into the whiteness. The justly celebrated part of Oswald's Tale is its investigatory recreation of Oswald's life in the Soviet Union, using the transcripts and Mailer's own interviews with Oswald's acquaintances. (I suspect Mailer has always wanted to write a 19th Century Russian novel; he makes the most of his extraordinary windfall, and it's a fascinating read.)

     But the transcripts take Mailer only so far. There is, first of all, the matter of their authenticity. Does it need to be emphasized that if the KGB transcripts are content-edited to preserve State secrets (in, say, a separate set of transcriptions prepared shortly after the assassination), or merely mistranslated, the portrait of Oswald in Russia is seriously incomplete? What, in fact, the KGB allowed Mailer to review were largely eavesdroppings on marital bickerings. Mailer has serious fun with them, and they do add significant details to the portrait of a marriage limned in the Warren Report and enhanced in Marina and Lee. They certainly don't suggest Oswald was a spy for either side, it's true, but when did ordinariness disqualify a spy?

     Supplementing the transcripts, Mailer and his colleagues, Larry Schiller and Judith McNally, also interviewed, through interpreters, many of Lee and Marina Oswald's Russian friends, as well as his KGB watchers. These don't get into Oswald's head either; they merely confirm what the transcripts suggest. Although Oswald's best friend, Pavel Golovachev, conceded that, "no angel," Oswald could have been "part of somebody's plot," the conclusion of everyone who knew Oswald in the Soviet Union was unanimous. Alek Oswald, as they knew him, could not have shot Kennedy -- certainly, not as a Lone Assassin.

     The only posthumous angle into Oswald's head are his "writings." They comprise the "Historic Diary" (of his stay in the Soviet Union), "The Kollective" (a long essay on the radio-TV factory where he worked in Minsk), a self-interview upon returning to America, a political manifesto entitled "The Atheian (sic) System" (perhaps dyslexic Oswald's intended word was "Athenian"), the note to Marina in Russian purportedly on what to do if her husband were arrested for killing Gen. Edwin Walker, and his letters.

     I suggest the key sentence in all these papers, the one that beguiled the Warren Report writers who wished to find Oswald guilty in any event, and the one that most intrigues Mailer, is this one from the pages on "The Atheian System:"

     I wonder what would happen it somebody was to stand up and say he was utterly opposed not only to the goverments, but to the people, too the entire land and complete foundations of his socially.
                                             (Warren Report, A.P. edition,
                                             1964, p. 172; Oswald's Tale, p. 780; misspellings in text)

     These are the words that beget the figure in the Warren Report biographies, and the figure fleshed out to some extent in Marina and Lee, and to a greater extent in Oswald's Tale. When you get into Oswald's world-sweeping but painfully distilled thoughts -- to paraphrase Mailer -- you want the little son-of-a-bitch to pull it off! This is the only Oswald that can seize Mailer's imagination, or my imagination, or anyone's. He's the Oswald we really know -- the Oswald we fear and love because he is we -- a deep nightmare wish come true: the lone individual taking history into his own hands -- lone wolf at the window, who jumped into the driver's seat, and drove History -- for six seconds, one sunny November afternoon. With repercussions from which we still suffer.

     But did the real Oswald do it? That question haunts the end of Oswald's Tale as it haunted the beginning. Also haunting the book is the more fundamental question the book does not address: Is Oswald himself, and no one else, the creator of Oswald-the-Lone-Assassin?

     It's a question to which a Yes cannot answer the bigger question. (A No would render the second half of Oswald's Tale worthless as nonfiction.) But it should be easy to settle. According to Peter Dale Scott, author of Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (University of California Press, 1993, 1996), Oswald's writings were authenticated by James Cadigan, an FBI expert ... although perhaps for that very reason they should be subjected to new authentication tests by non-FBI handwriting experts. (In addition to Deep Politics, I recommend former Special Agent James P. Hosty's tantalizing Assignment: OSWALD (Arcade Publishing, 1996) to anyone who still thinks the FBI conducted an objective and thoroughly professional investigation of Kennedy's death.) As an amateur, not a scholar, of the Kennedy assassination, I am unaware of any serious challenge by Commission critics to any of "Oswald's writings" except the Russian note (see Sylvia Meagher's Accessories After the Fact, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1967; Vintage Books, Random House, 1976, pp. 128-132, 283-292). Oswald did indeed pay Mrs. Pauline Bates, a Ft. Worth public stenographer, to type the first ten pages of the handwritten "Kollective" in June 1962. (Is it too mischievous to wonder if it was an original and uncommissioned composition? Or if any dyslexic misspellings in it were judiciously inserted by ... whomever?) To the Warren Commission Marina Oswald vouched for the other writings, Russian and English (which she could not read), at a time when her ruling passion was to tell U.S. authorities whatever they wanted to hear in order to forestall deportation to the Soviet Union. There are fundamental difficulties with the assumption Oswald wrote Oswald which Mailer has chosen not to address.

     Even their authenticity conceded, however, the writings do not form a very thick reed upon which to hang the case for Oswald's guilt. They are sufficient to one task only: they cut the figure and project the character of LEE HARVEY OSWALD--KENNEDY ASSASSIN, in all his dark, compelling whiteness. And the reader of the writings is seduced into the expectation that they lead to a more satisfying climax than eternal patsyhood.

     I have said Oswald's Tale is best read as the notebook for a novel. That novel would be Volume Two of Harlot's Ghost (Random House, 1991), Mailer's magnificent roman a fleuve of Cold War America. Not that the Oswald depicted in Oswald's Tale will necessarily be the Oswald of HG II. But to get any purchase on the relationship to the Kennedy assassination of Hugh Montague (in-house name HARLOT), the god-like deep presence in Mailer's CIA, Mailer has had first to get a purchase on the Oswald knowable from the historic record. In Oswald's Tale he has gathered and assembled the bones of the record (including small ones not found before). Has he also let his imagination be seduced by the "Atheian" vision?

     Only if Mailer does not write HG II will Oswald's Tale stand as his last word on the mystery. But if Mailer does give us Vol. II -- if he does make these bones live, with new flesh and blood and soul, will his two Oswalds look alike? (It is significant Mailer does not dramatize the assassination itself in Oswald's Tale. He's saving it.)

     This from the "Author's Note" to Harlot's Ghost comments pertinently:

     My hope is that the imaginary world of Harlot's Ghost will bear more relation to the reality of these historical events than the spectrum of facts and often calculated misinformation that still surrounds them. It is a sizable claim, but then I have the advantage of believing that novelists have a unique opportunity -- they can create superior histories out of an enhancement of the real, the unverified, and the wholly fictional. ...
                                             (Harlot's Ghost, pp. 1288-1289)

     With Oswald's Tale Mailer has recreated all the makings of a usable Oswald-the-Lone-Assassin, and at the same time freed himself to create a further Oswald: "out of an enhancement of the real, the unverified, and the wholly fictional" a character "superior" to the mere historic record (itself compounded of the false and true). Will a "superior" Oswald "bear more relation to the reality of these historical events than the spectrum of facts and often calculated misinformation that still surrounds them?"

     Excellent question.* Meanwhile there is, even if in quotation marks, "Oswald's Tale." If it turns out Oswald did not shoot Kennedy, Oswald's Tale will preserve the great American nightmare-hero for new generations, regardless.

*P.S. The answer now, however, is that Mailer never created a second Oswald. He never wrote Harlot's Ghost: Vol. II. He's left us with only the one. Tant pis. -- 11/10/2007

This essay riffs on its companion story, "The Short Happy Life of Lee Harvey Oswald".
JR Foley is also the author of "night patrol" in FlashPøint #5

More of JR Foley's work can be found at jrfoley.com.