January 19, 2015
Stephen King's 11/22/63
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Finished on November 20, 2014
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.
It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.
I haven’t jumped on the ereader bandwagon like so many of my friends and relatives have in the past few years. It’s not that I’m against ebooks. I just don’t buy that many books, in any format, since I already own so many unread books on my shelves, not to mention all the ARCs I get from work (and have previously accepted from publishers). However, 11/22/63 is a huge novel, weighing in at 849 pages. If I needed a good reason to finally buy an ebook, this was it! I do most of my reading in bed and the thought of holding that heavy book was very unappealing. After a little mishap of accidentally downloading the Spanish edition of the ebook (for which I kindly received a credit), I started reading this highly acclaimed novel while flying home from Oregon in December 2013. I know I read it for a week or two, but somewhere along the line, I got distracted by other shiny new books, and wound up setting this one aside for several months. I’m not sure when I finally picked it up again, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I love a good time-travel story and this hit all the marks.
Part time-travel, part speculative fiction, 11/22/63 is not your typical Stephen King horror novel. I was able to read late into the night without ever feeling spooked, and while the characters and plot may have invaded my dreams, I was never afraid to turn out the lights and go to sleep (unlike my experience with It and The Shining). Yes, the book is quite long and meanders a bit, but King is an excellent storyteller and the dialogue and suspense kept the pages turning. Fans of Ken Grimwood’s Replay and Jack Finney’s Time and Again will find 11/22/63 to be a very satisfying read.