Offbeat study of Ruth Paine, an ordinary woman who wished to reach out to a Russian immigrant and learn her language—and wound up sheltering Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Novelist and essayist Mallon (In Fact, 2001, etc.) appears fascinated by the convergence of great forces and small that Paine represents. Paine, a Quaker, once wrote of herself at Antioch College that “I seek to fill the needs of those whom I meet”—a sentiment that summarizes her marriage, failing in 1963, as well as her relationship with the Oswalds, whom she met at a party that February, following her involvement in language-exchange programs. Initially pursuing a friendship with the forlorn (and abused) Marina, by April, Paine had offered to let her and her child live with her in exchange for lessons in conversational Russian. Although Oswald himself roomed elsewhere, Paine aided him also, directing him toward temporary employment—at the Book Depository—and storing his possessions (including, unwittingly, his mail-order carbine) in her garage. These actions have long since damned both Paines among conspiracy theorists, who have charged them with being Communist moles, and worse. Mallon strikes a strong case to the contrary, detailing their full cooperation with the Warren Commission, and Ruth’s strangely persistent attempts to help Marina, post-assassination, which were rebuffed; indeed, Oswald’s survivors attacked Ruth in their attempts to mitigate his evident guilt. Mallon unearths a few genuine revelations, principally that Ruth’s estranged, self-involved husband Michael viewed the infamous photo of gun-toting Oswald months before the assassination, yet revealed nothing of it to the violence-phobic Ruth. The author’s interviews with Ruth paint an affecting portrait of her deceptively simple spirituality, ruptured by history. Regarding JFK conspiracy theorists, Mallon scorns their interpretations as lurid and biased, without addressing the doubts still held by many.
Readers not alienated by this stance will appreciate the sympathetic portrait of Ruth Paine; against the reactionary Texas backdrop, she embodies much of the thwarted idealism still associated with JFK.