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2013-02-13 - 8:45 a.m.

I just read 11/22/63 which was a great read on the level of suspense but it was a little annoying on the level of meta, which insists upon intruding since the story was, as they say, inspired by true events. Stephen King is apparently heavily invested in the idea that Oswald was the lone gunman, and it definitely makes the plot weaker than it needed to be, because there are parts of the story that are just ridiculous if you assume Oswald was working on his own. He leaves out the New Orleans stuff -- you MUST skip New Orleans if you want to build your story on the lone gunman theory -- but it's still awkward. And not just because this reader comes from New Orleans...

But, first, let's just gripe about the stupid shit that creeps in because editors are afraid to edit because, booga booga, it's Stephen King. I've never heard a bad word said about King as a human being, so I don't know why they're so afraid to make minor corrections. It's achingly obvious that King has no clue where the Permian Basin is or how far Midland is from Dallas. I can tell he hasn't much affection for Dallas -- who does? -- but it's a little shocking to realize that there is any American adult who has never driven across Texas, but clearly he hasn't. To whoever edited this...it would have been OK to tell Mr. King that you can't see, hear, or smell Midland from Dallas. Really!

You could have even mentioned that Dallas is not in the Texas Hill Country either, although he only makes that blooper once that I noticed, so it wasn't quite as whackadoo.

OK, that's the silly stuff, a few lines of text that can be fixed in a moment in the next edition. Now for the major stuff that interferes with the proper suspension of disbelief.

A rich oil man is just hanging with a slum dweller because...what? He's bored? Really? Rich guys are giving Oswald's Russian wife money and presents because...why? Rich women are giving her jobs teaching Russian? Really? In what universe does bitter creepy Commie and his Russian baby mama get well-to-do Dallas folks loading them up with goodies and looking for excuses to load them up with cash? There has to be something else going on. Just has to be.

It's Dallas, Texas at that ragtag end of the McCarthy era. At that time and place, hatred of "Reds," commies, and Russians had been elevated to a psychosis.

King is dealing with a person from a very class-based background (New Orleans) who moves into another very class-based society (Dallas), and yet the classes mix as freely as if it's Portland, Maine, in the 21st century. Guys in Texas were getting arrested for trumped-up charges or even beaten and killed because they had long hair. The famous story about Texas we always heard in Louisiana was the guy who got 50 years for two marijuana cigarettes. You think Dallas was going to open its arms to a known Commie? Nah...

I don't believe that Joe Not- Connected just waltzes into Russia and waltzes back out with a Russian wife, moves to freakin' Dallas, Texas, and, instead of getting beaten into a tiny moosh of blood, has all kinds of rich people running him to the damn grocery store and paying for his food. It. Just. Didn't. Happen.

A reasonable person from that time and place has to believe that some powerful people put their hand of protection over Oswald. Schooled him. Trained him. Protected him. And then set him loose to do his thing. If that ain't conspiracy, what is?

And then they make sure he's blown away on live TV so that EVERYBODY gets the memo that nobody is going to have any embarrassing secrets put out there, because he's never going to be able to talk.

There's just a lot of hand waving from King here because...hell...it would just be too hard if our hero had to commit multiple murder against the CIA and the mob to save JFK. And the book would be too long. So that's what I mean by meta. It's easier for our hero to stop one guy than to stop a lot of guys. It makes the plotting easier. But c'mon. No way there's only one guy in this.

King says he started the book in 1972 or 73, and one begins to suspect he got frustrated by the size of the project. You get the idea he latched onto Gerald Posner's Case Closed at a vulnerable moment and was sold not because the lone gunman theory is all that plausible but because it makes writing the book easier. See? Meta.

Despite King's comment in the afterword that "reasonable" people think Oswald was a lone actor, as a person living in the South, I don't think I've ever met any "reasonable" person who admitted to thinking so, and King himself concedes that his own wife is firmly in the camp of the conspiracy theorists. And why not? The lone nut theory just relies on too many impossibles, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Of course, the story is told in first person, and you can more easily suspend disbelief by considering that the hero has to convince himself that Oswald is the lone gunman, to stop himself from being frozen. He's a regular Hamlet who spends much of the book dithering as it is.

The hero deliberately avoids situations (like New Orleans) that would force him to abandon the lone gunman theory because otherwise he'd become completely overwhelmed and never do anything at all, other than get involved with bullshit small town high school politics. Fine. I'd accept that answer.

Alas, King's afterword makes it clear that he talked himself into believing the lone nutter theory too. Frankly, I wouldn't have included that afterword in the book. Leave it for an entry on the author's blog page or something. But the editor afraid to point out Dallas on a map is not going to move an entire author's afterword.

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