By Daniel Fierman
Updated January 18, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

In this slim nonfiction volume, novelist Mallon has unearthed the life of Ruth Hyde Paine, the young mother of two who housed Lee Harvey Oswald’s family in the months before he killed President Kennedy. To those not steeped in assassination mythology, the degree of separation from the event itself recalls that old Mel Brooks chestnut, ”What does that make us? Absolutely nothing.” In shedding light on a particularly dark corner of the story, the talented Mallon has produced an odd curio — part reporting exercise, part speculative ramble, and part heartfelt appreciation of a woman he quite clearly admires.