35 year old Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher in Maine, has been given a chance to change history. What if John F Kennedy hadn’t been killed in the prime of his life?How would that change Vietnam? Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations? Everything else? Jake’s friend Al, the owner of a local diner thinks the world would be a lot better, and he’s found out how to change it. But Al’s old and dying of lung cancer. He’ll need to convince Jake to go back in his place. But does the future want to be changed? Are there any more rhetorical questions I can ask?
Time travel is the frame that 11/22/63 is built upon. But it’s about so much more. It’s about a troubled repatriated communist named Lee Harvey Oswald. His scared and abused wife. And most of all, it’s about Jake, finding love, and learning about consequences big and small.
There is no way I can do justice to this amazing story. It’s long at 849 pages for the hard cover edition, but punctuated with thrilling crescendos throughout. There wasn’t a single boring moment or wasted page. If you’re not a Stephen King fan, this might be the story to change you. Also you suck. For fans, this reads just as fast as the 1074 page Under the Dome.
Most highlighted quote from Kindle users:
But stupidity is one of two things we see most clearly in retrospect. The other is missed chances.
If you liked Replay by Ken Grimwood, or more importantly, if you like 11/22/63, check out Replay.
Movie note: Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) is attached to write, produce and direct with Stephen King as an executive producer.
For all my reviews plus more book news, opinions and rants, go to Barely Literary.
Short interview with Stephen King about 11/22/63, and official book trailer after the jump.
11/22/63 tells the story of not only just the day of JFK’s assassination (that is not a spoiler – read the title and look at the picture!) but it deals with time entire concept of time travel. Jake is living in 2011 when Al, the man who owns a local diner, invites him to take a trip through time via a portal in the pantry of his diner. And boom goes the dynamite. What follows is part thriller and part love story. King looks at what the repercussion of time travel are, and also looks at our capacity for love and human compassion in the midst of suffering.
This book was a nicely written book, and my mind kept tripping out (in a good way!) on certain concepts … but you’ll have to click over to find some specific examples!
11/22/63 opens with a pretty at-length discussion of watershed moments. I’m not sure if Stephen King is aware of the irony involved here (he probably is), but in writing a novel about possibly the most watersheddy moment (not a phrase, don’t care) in modern American history, he has actually created a small watershed moment for himself. Granted, I have yet to read his Dark Tower series, and I haven’t read The Stand because IT LOOKS SCARY, but I feel safe in saying that 11/22/63 is good in a way most novels only aspire to be, including some of King’s own past works. It’s meaty and full of life, and it indulges in the fantasy of time travel as only a story birthed from the mind of a horror novelist could.
11/22/63, for those of you who haven’t heard of it and can’t guess it from the title, is about a time-traveling English teacher from the year 2011 who is given the opportunity to prevent the JFK assassination from ever happening (and, the idea goes, thus preventing a bunch of other crappy shit as well). But things get complicated, and our hero Jake ends up spending more time getting to know the 1960s and its people (including a rather great love interest) than he does preparing for his mission to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from taking those three shots from the Texas School Book Depository.
But the real showstopper in this story is the atmosphere. King conjures up places and people with skill and grace. His joyful moments are tempered with bitterness and sorrow, and not a little bit of violence. Things in this novel have texture and flavor, and for a novel centered on time travel, it never feels anything less than real. And after all that fantastic build up? He sticks the ending. With the possible exception of some reservations I have about the way King envisions the future towards the end, it’s an ending that is both emotionally satisfying and completely devastating, in the best way possible. And — as only the really good ones do — when you’ve finished, you can’t really imagine it having ever turned out differently.
Perhaps the best praise I could give 11/22/63 is that I can’t stop thinking about it, and I now want to discuss it with everyone I’ve ever met. It felt important while I was reading it, and it still feels important now, hours after I’ve finished. Stephen King may not be a master wordsmith, but I don’t really care. If you spin me a good yarn, I’ll sit adoringly at your feet forever, and King sure as hell knows how to spin a good yarn.
[4.5 stars for now . . . I need some thinking room]