All Too Real

November 22, 1963 by Adam Braver

An intriguing short novel, with all the action taking place on that one momentous day. We see the world from Jacqueline Kennedy’s perspective throughout much of the book, but the viewpoints of several others—the autopsy photographer, the funeral home driver in Dallas, Abraham Zapruder, and a White House usher—are interspersed. And yes, it is as voyeuristic as you would imagine. But somehow there’s also a respect for each of these historical figures, which mitigates the ickiness the almost-too-close perspective might have wrought.

The book begins with a series of facts; for example, Jacqueline Kennedy wore a size 12 when she moved into the White House and a size 8 when she moved out. There are details about the fabric of her famous pink suit and pillbox hat. Then the scene turns grim: shots are fired, the car races to the hospital, and the president dies. A moving scene takes place on the flight from Dallas to D.C., where we see Mrs. Kennedy refusing to leave the side of her husband’s casket. That day of horrors continued, and for the queasy reader, the Bethesda autopsy scenes are a bit gory. (This librarian gives you full permission to skim or skip. No guilt.)

This book covers much of the same ground as Manchester’s landmark nonfiction account of that same day, The Death of a President, but here the event is fictionalized and we’re inside the heads of the principals—so, strangely, this work of fiction makes me feel the terrible reality of the events of that day even more than Manchester’s remarkable recounting did. Never would have thought that was possible.