Few things occupy our political imaginations like the concept of assassination. It exploits our deepest paranoia surrounding stability, nation, and our way of life as we know it: what would happen if our president, or pope, or any other figure we look to for leadership were swiftly and dramatically killed? Or, in the face of oppression or evil, what if the most revolutionary among us “removed” the person doing the oppressing? It’s such an affecting idea that we needed a different word than “kill” to discuss it; to assassinate, or be assassinated, is by definition significant. To think about it is dangerous, and to talk about it too loudly is a crime. Planned in secret, we’re left to fill in what we don’t know with conspiracy theories that range from plausible to depraved. It connotes more importance than “important.”
Naturally, such an inflammatory and fearful idea works its way into our literature, especially during times when a nation or group is feeling particularly vulnerable. Some of our most memorable television shows, movies, and books surround the idea of preventing or carrying out an assassination, and by extension preserving or changing history forever. Stop Hitler. Save the president. Preserve our politics, shatter theirs. Most recently, Marlon James’s Man Booker-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings revolves around a plot to assassinate Bob Marley in Jamaica during the 1970s.
2004, in America’s post-9/11 state of fear and nationalism as the Iraq War took form, was exactly such a time of heightened political paranoia. And it’s no accident that our literary minds went where they so often do under these circumstances. Maybe we go here because the thought of being able to carry out an assassination is empowering, or that being able to stop one makes us feel safe. Maybe it’s just that, when we’re scared, we tend to believe someone somewhere is scheming something. Whatever it is, the assassination theories and discussions won’t be going away, though. By definition, they’re too important.
Rain Taxi’s best reviews dealing with assassinations:
Review by Bradley E. Ayers of American Assassination by Four Arrows and Jim Fetzer (Winter 2004/2005, Online), which delves into the highly suspicious crash of Senator Paul Wellstone’s plane.
Review by Andrew Palmer of Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker (Fall 2004, Online), a highly controversial novel about two men plotting to assassinate George W. Bush.
Review by Rod Smith of Lost Splendor: The Amazing Memoirs of the Man Who Killed Rasputin by Prince Felix Youssoupoff (Spring 2004, Online), in which Smith asserts that every one of us is a “born assassin.”