The Kennedy assassination has been represented in a wide range of novels, short stories and plays. In some cases the death of the president features as merely the historical backdrop for the real action of the fiction, but in others the event itself holds a special significance for the writers. Some of the most important postwar American novelists – Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, James Ellroy – have focused on the Kennedy assassination in particular because it raises fundamental questions about the connection between conspiracy plot and narrative plot; about the nature of character, agency and causality; about the relationship between fictional narrative and historical truth; and about the connection between the assassination and myths of national identity and destiny. Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer and James Ellroy have all been haunted by the Kennedy assassination. Each has found in the event an emblematic story for the nation: DeLillo's essay on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the shooting is titled 'American Blood' (1983); the subtitle of Mailer's 1995 novel is 'An American Mystery'; and Ellroy's novel (1995) is called American Tabloid. DeLillo and Mailer have also acknowledged that the Warren Commission Report might well be the ultimate postmodern novel, dwarfing any of their own efforts (see Chapter 4). Before looking at the way that DeLillo, Mailer and Ellroy have grappled with the death of JFK, this chapter will give a brief overview of other assassination fictional writings.
As we saw in Chapter 5, the Kennedy assassination – or, more accurately, the post-Watergate rekindling of interest in the political assassinations of the 1960s – fed into a culture of paranoia, a sense of default scepticism that saw evidence everywhere of a shadow government based on institutionalised secrecy and immune to democratic control, with the vulnerable individual the victim of a vast conspiracy of interlocking and