Blogs > Cliopatria > Mel Ayton: Review of Mark Pizzimenti's Dissidence: A Novel of Lee Harvey Oswald

Jun 14, 2006 5:29 pm

Mel Ayton: Review of Mark Pizzimenti's Dissidence: A Novel of Lee Harvey Oswald

A blend of fact and fiction, alive with an interesting delineation of characters, Dissidence is a haunting and grave examination of an event that has become an indelible part of the American psyche. That Mark Pizzimenti decided to treat the JFK assassination in a "fictionalized" manner gives him great latitude to combine well documented facts with the novelist's own creative talents and an ability to enter the mind of Oswald. The result is a stark portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Pizzimenti centers his narrative around Oswald and he uses real characters to give his book the feel of an historical account while at the same time he introduces suspense to the story that only a novel can provide. Although the reader is well aware of what is to come, Pizzimenti builds up the suspense by his unusual literary style; a style that keeps the story at a steady pace.

His chapters that deal with Oswald's early life are insightful and Pizzimenti manages to get inside Oswald's distorted personality which was the result of motherly neglect. Later in the book Oswald is presented as a confused and misguided individual, with big political ambitions but little direction and with no clear goals. The story takes the reader through Oswald's service in the military, his defection to Russia, a rocky marriage and a life destined to failure. This fictional Oswald, true to the real life assassin, is an insightful portrait.

Pizzimenti shows Oswald moving inexorably toward the day that became the central event of 1960s America. He has also developed each of the characters who cross Oswald's path to a point that their actions and the scenario that the author presents are completely believable. Particularly impressive is the way the author developed some of the subsidiary characters such as Marina Oswald and Oswald's mother, Marguerite. He completely defines Marguerite's character and all her misconceptions, her self-centered nature and her manipulation and cunningness. Pizzimenti's character development succeeds in showing the reader how Oswald and his mother, two misguided individuals, might be better understood. He also makes the other real individuals in the JFK assassination story, people like George De Mohrenschildt, into portraits which are involving and absorbing.

It is a measure of his success that while reading, one must keep reminding oneself that this is, indeed, a novel making no claim to literal truth.

Thankfully, Pizzimenti avoids falling into the conspiracy theory trap. For verifiable facts he puts his trust in the works of Gerald Posner et al who have managed to relegate the conspiracy - minded fantasies to sideshow status.

One of its themes which I greatly appreciated is the banality of evil - while planning to assassinate the president, Oswald also deals with his day to day problems, such as playing with his children and the children of neighbors, worrying about his efforts to secure employment etc. From this perspective the book is fascinating.

Pizzimenti has succeeded in making us aware, once again, of a central fact in this tragic story - that there are among us isolated misfits like Oswald who deliriously inflate their own importance and who, by a single act of violence, can insure their place in history.

Pizzimenti sees it as his task not to try to furnish factual answers to each component of the complex story of the JFK assassination, but only to present a psychological portrait of Oswald in which the reader will more fully understand why he decided to kill President Kennedy.

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