first line friday

“This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track. He liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass. The train smashed through the dark. People stood on local platforms staring nowhere, a look they’d been practicing for years. He kind of wondered, speeding past, who they really were. His body fluttered in the fastest stretches. They went so fast sometimes he thought they were on the edge of no-control. The noise was pitched to a level of pain he absorbed as a personal test. Another crazy-ass curve. There was so much iron in the sound of those curves he could almost taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth when you are little.”

 Don DeLillo, Libra, 1988

“The strongest feeling I took away from that moment”, DeLillo has said of watching the Kennedy assassination, “is the feeling that the shot came from the front and not from the rear”. It is the moment that DeLillo has said “invented” him as a writer.

Hence Libra, his ersatz biography of Lee Harvey Oswald (the title is a reference to Oswald’s star sign.) Hence the preoccupation with conspiracies and media images to be found in DeLillo’s other books, such as Underworld and White Noise.

My question is, if the Kennedy assassination invented DeLillo the writer, and DeLillo the writer, in penning White Noise, invented the Airborne Toxic Event, does that mean that we can blame Lee Harvey Oswald for this Airborne Toxic Event? And this one? I certainly hope so.

kennedyHere’s another interesting fact explaining DeLillo’s interest in Oswald, and a segue into one more beaut passage from Libra: DeLillo and Oswald, who were three years apart in age, grew up within streets of each other in the Bronx:

“In summer dusk the girls lingered near the benches on Bronx Park South. Jewish girls, Italian girls in tight skirts, girls with ankle bracelets, their voices murmurous with the sound of boys’ names, with song lyrics, little remarks he didn’t always understand…Heat entered the flat through the walls and windows, seeped down from the tar roof. Men on Sundays carried pastry in white boxes. An Italian was murdered in a candy store, shot five times, his brains dashing the wall near the comic-book rack. Kids trooped to the store from all around to see the traces of grayish splatter. His mother sold stockings in Manhattan.”

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