why does stephen king believe mailer and posner that oswald acted alone?

I HAVE JUST FINISHED 11/22/63, Stephen King’s re­cent novel. Pub­lished in 2011, it is a modern fan­tasy whose ‘gimme’ is un­ex­plained, mag­ical time-travel. In fact, the con­cept of walking into a small room and finding a gateway into an­other world is as old as, well—Narnia it­self! The title of the novel should give away the des­ti­na­tion of the time-traveling pro­tag­o­nist: he travels back in time to stop Lee Harvey Os­wald from shooting Pres­i­dent Kennedy.

But the magic steps in the aging restau­rant that lead down from the present into the past only takes him to one place and one time in 1958. So, he has to live there and wait more than four years, de­vel­oping a per­sona, a life, and a career.

I need to make some­thing clear here: I am not a big fan of Mr. King’s. This is not the first King novel that I have read: I en­joyed The Shining. My ini­tial re­sponse to reading that book was that it read like the first draft of a tal­ented writer of first drafts.

That is, I was im­pressed with King’s raw ability to write, but not im­pressed with the what I per­ceived as a very dis­tinct lack of pol­ishing and ed­i­to­rial oversight.

 

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Nicholson steals every scene

I also thought the book would make a good movie: The Shining is one of those rare in­stances where I thought the movie adap­ta­tion was better than the book. Of course, when you have a di­rector like Stanley Kubrick and an actor like Jack Nicholson at the peak of their powers and working to­gether, magic can happen. And it did with the movie ver­sion of The Shining.

Nicholson is at his scene-stealing best: the fa­mous “Here’s Johnny!” scene is also no­table for just how per­versely in­sane he makes his char­acter (John ‘Jack’ Tor­rance) ap­pear. And Shelley Du­vall as Wendy Torrance—and who ap­pears de­ter­mined to un­der­mine her bud­ding acting ca­reer through most of the movie—gives one of the best per­for­mances of a truly fright­ened human being ever cap­tured on film!

I at­tempted to read sev­eral other King novels; I think I started Cujo and Chris­tine but never fin­ished them. I know I got midway through Tom­my­knockers—love the part when they first find a por­tion of the gi­gantic saucer sticking up out of the ground.

But midway is about it for me and Mr. King. He re­ally knows how to write a premise that sucks the reader into the book with great early chap­ters. But, I al­ways felt let down by the second half of his books.

 

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A sucker for time-travel stories 

This was my re­sponse to 11/22/63: great be­gin­ning, catching my at­ten­tion im­me­di­ately and holding it through 500 pages. I em­pathized with the pro­tag­o­nist Jake Ep­ping and the un­cer­tain sit­u­a­tions in which he found him­self. I liked his girl­friend and wanted them to make it! I also liked the two older friends that he made in the school where he was teaching (and re­member, he was teaching in his own past).

Like the afore­men­tioned King novels, the latter part of the book did not hold up as well, leading to a less than sat­is­fying conclusion—at least to me.

Now, the reason why I took an­other go at a Stephen King novel is that I am a sucker for time-travel sto­ries, and this is a time-travel story. It is a fan­tasy, granted, and one that takes place in con­tem­po­rary re­ality with re­peated flights back to a pre­cise date in 1958.

But the method of travel is a mag­ical doorway from one world to an­other, no dif­ferent than the wardrobe that bridges Earth with Narnia. This is not a com­plaint: it could have been a mirror (as in Lewis Car­roll’s Through The Looking Glass) or a closet (the pre­vi­ously men­tioned The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis).

Hell’s Belles, it could have been a leg­endary psy­che­delic mush­room in the rain forests of Yu­catan (as with Lewis Shin­er’s De­serted Cities Of the Heart), and it would have worked for me. As I said, I am a sucker for time-travel stories.

 

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The case against Oswald is not closed

The other at­trac­tive fea­ture of 11/22/63 is that I am a bit of a Kennedy ‘as­sas­si­na­tion buff’—what those of us who re­ject the Warren Com­mis­sion’s conspiracy-less (sic) theory used to be called until they came up with the pe­jo­ra­tive ‘con­spiracy theorist’—and can usu­ally tell whether or not a writer has done his home­work on this topic.

While reading King’s take on the No­vember 22, 1963, I got the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that King’s pri­mary ref­er­ence for the as­sas­si­na­tion was Gerald Pos­ner’s Case Closed, while Norman Mail­er’s Os­wald’s Tale was the go-to book for his de­pic­tion of Lee Os­wald as an in­se­cure, vi­o­lent so­cio­pathic per­son­ality. Need­less to say, I do not con­sider ei­ther of these books to be helpful in un­der­standing the events of this day …

The nar­ra­tive of the novel is told in such a manner that the ques­tion of who killed JFK on No­vember 22, 1963, re­mains unan­swered. King’s ‘so­lu­tion’ was vague enough that, if you are one of the few left who be­lieves that Os­wald acted alone, you would be pleased with the outcome.

If, on the other hand, you are one of the ma­jority of opinion-holders in the world that be­lieves that there was more than one shooter, the out­come is vague enough to leave you guessing King’s as­sess­ment of that day.

Un­for­tu­nately, Mr. King in­cluded an af­ter­word that should never have been al­lowed into the book. King ac­knowl­edges both Mailer and Pos­ner’s work among his main sources of in­for­ma­tion, which is at least half hi­lar­ious, given the cur­rent status of Gerald Posner.

This caused me to re­flect back­ward and read into the nov­el’s seeming vague­ness a def­i­nite state­ment by King about that day of in­famy. Oh well, as the Rolling Stones once said, “What a shame, nothing seems to be going right …”

 

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A paranoid sociopath who teaches himself fluent Russian

Using Mailer, King’s al­most com­pletely deroga­tory por­trayal of Os­wald as a vain, self-absorbed, pos­sibly stupid, and easily misled person. Which, of course, fails to ac­count for how a 17-year old high school dropout who en­listed in the US Marines wran­gled an as­sign­ment to a top-secret radar base in Japan that mon­i­tored the even more se­cret U2 air­planes that were il­le­gally coasting high above the Russian ter­ri­to­ries. Spying on So­viet mil­i­tary and man­u­fac­turing operations.

And the story and the co­in­ci­dences get weirder and more pro­lific: ac­cording to his fellow Marines, the only books he was ever seen reading were by Karl Marx, the Fa­ther of Modern Communism.

Now, many in­ves­ti­ga­tors write this off—a US Ma­rine on as­sign­ment off the coast of the USSR at the height of the Cold War trotzkying, er, trot­ting around the base car­rying ANY book would have called at­ten­tion to him­self, let alone the pre­sumed bible of the enemy—which, of course, if Lee was more than a mere grunt, this may have been his exact intention.

Nor does King ex­plain how this im­be­cilic (“What, me worry?”) jar­head was able to learn to read and speak damn near fluent Russian without a teacher while on that top-secret as­sign­ment in that iso­lated compound.

 

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Why does King believe Mailer and Posner?

It is al­most in­con­ceiv­able that a high-school drop-out of below-normal in­tel­li­gence learned Russian while on duty at that base. And he cer­tainly didn’t learn it at home be­fore en­listing! Once you ac­cept that, then only one other con­clu­sion is left you:

Leon Os­wald learned to read and write damn near fluent Russian after en­listing but be­fore ship­ping out to Japan.

While he was in the Marines.

Ques­tion: What type of Ma­rine was pulled from the rank and file and taught Russian at the height of the Cold War?

An­swer this ques­tion cor­rectly and Mr. Os­wald takes on a whole new per­sona and the term con­spiracy theory doesn’t sound so, so … outré, yes?

So, why does King be­lieve Mailer and Posner that Os­wald acted alone?? 

 

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FEATURED IMAGE: The Texas Book De­pos­i­tory looking down on Dealy Plaza in 1963.

 

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