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November 22, 1963by Adam Braver
Synopses & Reviews
November 22, 1963 chronicles the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination and explores the intersection of stories and memories and how they represent and mythologize that defining moment in history. Jackie's story is interwoven with the stories of real people intimately connected with that day: a man who shares cigarettes with Jackie outside the trauma room; a motorcycle policeman flanking the motorcade; Abe Zapruder, who caught the assassination on film; the White House servants waiting for Jackie to return; and the morticians overseeing President Kennedy’s autopsy.
"With a captivating mix of fact and fiction, Braver (Mr. Lincoln's Wars) chronicles the events surrounding JFK's assassination to moving effect. The event is no stranger to the literary world, but Braver's recreation, owing to small and often previously off-camera details, remains hauntingly original. Some of these details, like the ones that open the book and dwell on Jackie's fashion preferences, present a factual backdrop against which later scenes — e.g., where Jackie refuses to remove her blood-splattered pink suit — tragically play out. Others, like the way JFK's eyes keep popping open during the autopsy, underscore the grisly reality of his death. While the accumulation of small moments gives the book its weightiness, the stories of people peripherally associated with the assassination make the book sing; through the experiences of the Texan who sold the government Kennedy's casket, the mechanic in charge of the limousine in which Kennedy was shot and numerous others, Braver reveals the tragedy of a national story that decades later can still be acutely felt." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Forty-five years ago, John F. Kennedy, the handsome, charismatic president of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas. The first lady sat beside him, wearing a striking pink wool suit with matching pillbox hat. The suit was ruinously stained with blood, but she declined to change it for hours afterward, saying, famously, "I want them to see what they have done to Jack." In the novel "November... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) 22, 1963," Adam Braver has taken it upon himself to "imagine" that day, the funeral that followed, and a few more occasions after the Johnsons had moved into the White House, including two when Lyndon calls up Jackie to flirt with her on the phone. Several years back, Braver used this same technique to imagine Sarah Bernhardt, in late middle age, coming to perform in Los Angeles, where she is hounded out of the downtown theater by the forces of decency and is invited to move her act out to the new tourist attraction at Venice Pier, with artificial canals and its own brand-new theater. Although we know she'll go on acting well into her 70s, during her time in Venice she goes through a crisis of the heart, wondering if the life of art is worth it. That novel had some wonderful images in it — for example, a moment in which Sarah expresses a desire to fish from the pier and a boy is hired to swim out and hang a dead fish on her hook. Her outrage follows. We see a combination of the splendid and the tawdry in that newfangled beach resort, and sense the passing of fragile time from one minute to another as Sarah waits to begin her performance. This technique doesn't work all that well with Jacqueline Kennedy, for several reasons. First, those of us who were alive on that fateful, awful day own it for ourselves; we saw the pictures, heard the commentators, read all the historians' first drafts that appeared in the respectable magazines of the day. We know, or think we know, that Jackie took off her wedding ring and put it on Jack's finger. We were there when the counter-history began to trickle out: stories of Kennedy's womanizing and his possible connection with the Mafia. Our illusions were jolted just a bit when Jackie married Aristotle Onassis. They were jolted because we thought we knew these people, but of course we didn't. They and their followers had, quite consciously in some cases, created a myth — all that Camelot stuff — but for all their elegance they turned out to be merely human beings, just as the Beatles turned out to be just four guys. Second, there is a whole school of people who don't remember Nov. 22, 1963, at all and, because they don't remember, can't be expected to care all that much. Third, Caroline Kennedy is still very much alive. You take an awful chance when you "imagine" the death of her father and the thought processes of her mother, whom she knew and loved. You presume. This novel opens with Jackie, on the morning of Nov. 22, obsessing about her pink suit. Will it be too hot for the Texas weather? Will it be too heavy? She joins her husband a few minutes later in a hotel ballroom, going through the kitchen to get there, a reminder to the reader that no place is secure: look what happened later to Jack's brother Bobby. As the day proceeds, interviews are interspersed here and there: one with a real motorcycle cop who doesn't answer questions as the author might wish him to, another from some ordinary guy who simply remembers that he was in school when it happened (presumably to show that every American remembers where he or she was when the assassination occurred. But don't we all know that already?). A great deal is made of Mrs. Kennedy's wish to put together a funeral as much like Abraham Lincoln's as possible. (And, indeed, Braver has written a book about Lincoln, too.) We are made aware of the passage of history, the shortness of time between the earlier assassination and the one under examination now. Braver brings out the underpinnings of race and class through a long monologue by a (fictional) black servant in the Kennedy White House who recalls that President Eisenhower expected the maids to turn off their vacuums and face the wall when he walked by. To me, this is where "imagination" gets a little too full of itself. Was Eisenhower really that odious? It seems unbelievable. If it were true, it surely would have been backed up by a footnote. This holds doubly true with these imagined Lyndon Johnson phone calls. Perhaps something like that actually did happen. But the man is in the unfortunate position of being dead enough not to be able to defend himself, yet alive enough to still have living offspring whose feelings will be hurt. Besides, it just doesn't sound true! All of us imagine things all the time, but we don't go around putting that material in books and calling it art. I would respectfully suggest to the author — who really is a wonderful writer — that the next historical figure he picks for his vigorous literary carwash be far enough away in chronological time that no reader will be able to say, "I just can't buy this." Because I certainly couldn't buy this. Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can may be reached at www.carolynsee.com., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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November 22, 1963 chronicles the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination. It begins that morning, with Jackie Kennedy in a Fort Worth hotel, about to leave for Dallas. Her airplane trip out of Dallas after the assassination forms the connecting arc for the book, which ends with Mrs. Kennedys return to the White House at 4 a.m. Interwoven throughout are stories of real people intimately connected with that day: a man who shares cigarettes with the First Lady outside the trauma room; a motorcycle policeman flanking the entourage; Abe Zabruder, who caught the assassination on film; the White House servants following Mrs. Kennedys orders to begin planning a funeral modeled on Lincolns; and the morticians overseeing President Kennedys autopsy. Adam Bravers brilliantly constructed historical fiction explores the intersection of stories and memories, and reveals how together, they have come to represent and mythologize that fateful day.
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