MRS. PAINE'S GARAGE: And the Murder of John F. Kennedy

Thomas Mallon, Author
Thomas Mallon, Author . Pantheon $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-42117-4
Reviewed on: 11/26/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002

In his fiction, Mallon (Henry and Clara, etc.) has looked at history's accidental tourists, ordinary citizens thrust by happenstance into the swirl of cataclysmic events. This time around, he turns a journalistic eye toward a central surviving figure in the Kennedy assassination. In 1963, Ruth Paine, now in her late 60s, was a recently separated housewife hoping to improve her Russian. As a result, she offered to shelter a Russian woman, Marina Oswald, her children while her husband, Lee Harvey, sought work. In the end, Paine, a committed Quaker, unwittingly provided Oswald a sniper's nest—she helped him find employment at the Texas School Book Depository—and storage space, her garage, for arguably the 20th-century's most infamous murder weapon. The views on her association with the Oswalds have run the gamut, from naïve do-gooder to CIA conspirator. Here we meet up with some old faces, seen now through Paine's eyes, such as Jim Garrison, the overzealous New Orleans district attorney determined to uncover a conspiracy. Mallon follows the strange trajectory of Paine's well-intentioned life, from her first meeting with the Oswalds to her voluminous testimony before the Warren Commission to her pursuit of an estranged Marina following the events. Mallon also generates a variety of delicious "what-if" scenarios and "small-world" coincidences. There are a few brambles to hack through at the outset, awkward chronological zigzags and family histories that are tedious in spots. But these patches are soon smoothed out. While not a heavy-hitting historical tome, this may introduce some fresh air on the vast storehouse of Kennedy works. Ruth Paine's is ultimately a human story, the tale of one woman living in America. (Jan. 7)

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