It was an interest in improving her Russian that brought Ruth Paine to a friend's party in February 1963. The freethinking wife and mother was studying the language and heard that in attendance would be a young American man and his Russian wife who had just returned from that country. But Mrs. Paine got more than speaking lessons when Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald became an integral part of her life, in turn making her a part of history.
Not a book necessarily about the JFK assassination, MRS. PAINE'S GARAGE is instead of story of friendship, circumstance, and "what-if?" scenarios. Paine and Oswald became fast friends, conversing almost exclusively in Russian, mostly about family life. Paine would eventually invite the pregnant Marina and her daughter to live in her house while an itinerant Lee alternately looked for jobs or --- finding one in a nearby city --- would visit on weekends and himself stay over. Over the weeks, Ruth took a heftier interest in Marina and her life, even to the point of donating blood at a local hospital in exchange for a discount on Marina's upcoming delivery as well as financial help. But she was often put off by Lee, who sometimes would berate and physically abuse Marina and insist that she not learn any English.
Eventually, most of the Oswald's meager possessions found their way into the structure of the title --- most notoriously the rifle that the Warren Commission said murdered John F. Kennedy. And while nothing seemed amiss the morning of November 22 when Lee Harvey Oswald awoke and left the house for his job at the Texas School Book Depository (which Ruth had gotten for him), everything would change after lunchtime when word of the assassination hit the news and Ruth opened the door to find a phalanx of FBI agents asking about her houseguests…
Paine's whirlwind ride over the next 37 years would include everything from testifying before the Warren Commission to vilification by the JFK-obsessed ranging from the LNs ("Lone Nutters") to the CT ("Conspiracy Theorists"). Ironically, her close ties with Marina would not survive. Soon after Secret Service agents ferreted her away, the widow Oswald, for many reasons, some unsubstantiated, cut off all ties with the woman who was ostensibly her only American friend. Then there was the seemingly odd but intense, almost courting-like relationship with Oswald that Paine seemed to pursue, complete with pleading letters. Although Paine, a devout Quaker with an unarguably big heart, maintains her interest in Oswald was strictly due to a genuine love of their friendship and concern for her well-being.
Ultimately, the slim MRS. PAINE'S GARAGE is an interesting --- if not substantive --- account of one woman's wholly unexpected thrust in history. It will of course be of great interest to the JFK assassination community, whose intense if sometimes nutty theories are also given space here with Mallon's reports from an annual conference (which he suggests resemble "a cross between gatherings of the Modern Language Association and Trekkies"). It's an easily digested addition to a literary genre: What course history might have taken if Ruth Paine had taken up Chinese instead of Russian --- and subsequently never found Oswald a job whose window held an impeccable view of Dealey Plaza --- is but one of the book's tantalizing questions.
Reviewed by Bob Ruggiero on January 2, 2002
Mrs. Paine's Garage: And the Murder of John F. Kennedy