The latest offering from local publisher Tin House is an unusual take on historical fiction, one that combines interviews and speculation for a perspective on the Kennedy assassination that's at once familiar and unique. In November 22, 1963, Adam Braver follows Jackie Kennedy through the day her husband was killed, padding the account of Jackie's last day as first lady with digressions into the experiences of others who were directly involved in the event. The book is marked by a preoccupation with individual and collective memory: The people who were in Dallas on that November morning cling to their experiences, telling and retelling their stories, but the Kennedy assassination was such a milestone in the public consciousness that these individual accounts seem to dissolve in the collective narrative.
Adding legitimacy to this juxtaposition between individual and collective experience, Braver conducted interviews with people who experienced the assassination firsthand—a cop who was part of the motorcade, an ambulance driver who kept Jackie Kennedy company as she waited for doctors to complete the examination of her husband's body. He combines these interviews with attempts to imagine what might have been going through the mind of Jackie Kennedy as she traveled with the body of her husband, her pink suit stained with his blood even as she stood beside Lyndon Johnson at his swearing in. Braver's writing, which maintains a fairly detached tone through most of the book, veers toward the trite when describing Jackie: "It's like it is with birds. They hide their wounds and disease. Instinctively they know they are prey, and any sign of weakness puts them at mortal risk. So by daylight the sick bird stands proud and tall, singing to the morning.... But at night that bird closes her eyes, afraid she won't wake up to see the next day. Afraid her song already will be forgotten." One can't help but feel that the former first lady deserves more than a bird simile.
While Braver's depiction of Jackie is the least successful element of the book, he does innovatively capture how many disparate experiences go into building our shared understanding of an event—an exploration that, in a world in which mass media allows more people than ever to experience events secondhand, proves relevant despite its dated subject matter.