Friday, November 25, 2011
JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF JUDYTH VARY BAKER'S ME AND LEE
I simply cannot believe some of the reviews I see for this book on Amazon.com praising it as genuine, authentic, and heartwarming stuff about Lee Oswald, but I know that it has become a widespread abusive practice for friends, colleagues, and business associates, early on, to lard up the review section for any book with five-star praise, making it difficult for readers to find genuine reviews.
If there were an award for the most incomprehensible, confusing book ever written about the Kennedy assassination, Ms. Baker's book would surely be a serious contender.
Here you will find a unique blend of how I spent my teen years, the cheesy 1950s television series "I Led Three Lives," Laurel and Hardy playing spies, and a bodice-ripper from Harlequin Romance books. It is an indigestible mass out of which emerges absolutely zero insight into the personality of Oswald or into the background of the assassination.
The first hundred pages or so of this book have nothing whatever to do with Lee Oswald or the assassination, covering as they do the early life of Ms. Baker, especially her teenage years. Ms. Baker or whoever it is who wrote this material tries impressing the reader with her early brilliance, and it does seem she was a gifted young woman.
Her early school science projects and the recognition she gained for her work with mice and cancer cells are matters of which she is deservingly proud, but about a hundred pages of it in a book on an entirely different subject? A single slim chapter or introduction would have established her bone fides as a competent researcher.
One assumes that here the publisher was attempting to establish her as a truly worthy witness, intelligent and scientific-minded. The only trouble with that is that once we are into the matter for which people are reading the book, all pretense of science and logic evaporates.
I note also a rather cheap publisher's trick used here. Ms. Baker's story of her remarkable youth is documented with dozens of cuttings and documents, making it unmistakable that she is telling us a true story. But when we get to New Orleans and Oswald, these insertions become mostly completely generic and lacking in any connection with her, things like backgrounders on certain people or newspaper photos of places in New Orleans.
When Ms. Baker comes finally to New Orleans and Lee Oswald, I gasped at the idea that now she might offer some insights, but the truth is that there is nothing about her words that convinces the reader that she and Oswald were even acquainted, let alone intimate friends. I don't say they were not, but the author's words lack substance and indeed descent into a kind of logic-lacking fog differing considerably from the unnecessarily long but at least fairly lucid first hundred pages.
The confusions are too many to go into, and when reviewing a ghastly book one hesitates spending too much effort after the unpleasant realization you have wasted time and energy reading it.
Ms. Baker in the course of endless back-and-forths on streetcars, day and night, going to bizarre boarding houses, bizarre offices, and bizarre entertainments with Oswald manages, in a book supposedly telling us what Oswald really was like and written to support his supposed views, to plant every unproved accusation about Oswald you can find in the various hack books attacking him.
He was, according to her, a crack shot, demonstrating his prowess to her with an air rifle at an amusement park. He loved guns and weapons, taking her to a small arsenal in the Bannister agency's building and selecting a pistol, and wanting to take her for fun shooting birds. He was violent towards his wife, confirming never-proved assertions of an unbalanced Marina Oswald. He ran errands for Marcello mob interests, including a rather well known scene where a witness in the assassination literature says he saw Oswald taking a wad of money under the table from the man running the Town and Country Motel (some researchers suggesting another individual, a criminal, who slightly resembled Oswald as the person in the incident if it even happened). In Ms. Baker's version, she is there right next to Oswald, keeping her face demurely down and seeing the money being passed under the table.
All of Ms. Baker's story about Oswald and New Orleans, except for the silly romantic assertions, could have been derived from the popular literature. There is no unmistakable authenticity in any of it, so when it is combined, as it is, with laughable lines and events, the result is an unpleasant and indigestible mush.
Oswald, as portrayed by Ms. Baker comes off as a bizarre little man full of delusional ideas, a reading which entirely works against the picture I have of him through many books.
I should tell readers that I received an appreciative e-mail from Ms. Baker not long ago: she was thanking me for defending her in a deluge of comments on the Toronto Globe and Mail's website pertaining to an interview in the promotion of her book. I had not read her book, nor was I familiar with her background, but I simply opposed attacks based on "Oh, not another conspiracy theory!" believing as I do that we have never received the truth concerning the assassination and remaining open to the idea that there are still people from whom we have not heard who know important things.
Well, now that I have read Ms. Baker, I remain convinced we have never received the truth, and you can delete Ms. Baker's name from the list of those who could come forward with new information.