11/22/63. The day JFK was assassinated. A nation was devastated, stunned that a President was taken. Could it have been stopped? What if you could change history?
Let's get this out of the way. I loved this book. LOVED IT. There are 849 pages to this sucker, and not one page is a drag. (Look at me, I'm using lingo not quite current anymore, and it's all because I got sucked into this story and felt like I lived Jake Epping's time travel adventure in the late '50s, early '60s). This is a brilliant piece of work, and if I end up making a "Top 10 Books I've Read in 2011" list, this is going smack dab in the number 1 slot. (It's two days away from the last month of the year, so I feel pretty confident about my odds. I could be wrong, but...I don't really think so).
I've recently started reading Stephen King's work. I've been choosy, selecting ones considered King classics, so when 11/22/63 was being touted as the next best thing, I was hesitant. Selfishly, I wanted to wait until others read it.
But then I got a Klout perk, downloaded it to my iPad, and was snagged from the first page into this time travel adventure and read it just under a week. For me, that's insane.
Jake Epping, a small town New England teacher who recently went through a divorce from a struggling alcoholic, is introduced to this time warp by a good friend who invites him to help change history. In some freak of who-knows-what, there's some sort of wonky rabbit hole in his friend's diner that transports him from 2011 to 1958. The crazy thing is it always brings Jake to September 9, 1958, no earlier or later. Same time every time, and even crazier is that no matter how long Jake stays "in the past," when he returns to 2011, he's only missed two minutes. That's it. Whether he spends a day, a week, or even a few years, whenever he returns, it is only two minutes later "in the present."
So what's a time-traveling good guy to do? The closest major event to 1958 is the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, which spiraled a flurry of events including Robert Kennedy's assassination, Martin Luther King, the Vietnam conflict. Some events could be associated with JFK's death, some maybe not...but it's up to Jake to take his friend's place and live five years in the past and, hopefully, save a President. While living "in the past," he meets a multitude of memorable characters (both good and downright troubling), obsessively stalks Lee Harvey Oswald, becomes attached to a community that makes him feel at home, and falls in love with the incredible and amazing Sadie.
Let's also address this: It is not a horror story. It is all time travel.
What I really enjoyed is that King doesn't waste time trying to explain the science or logistics of why there's a rabbit hole, and why it only deposits you on the same day and time in 1958, or even why only two minutes have passed when returning to the "present." It just is what it is, and that works just fine in this chunkster wallop of a story. I'm not the most experienced sci-fi reader, but I like to think I'm fairly logical. When a book presents me with some convoluted explanation on why something is happening scientifically, I tend to try to poke a hole in it. King, though, doesn't quibble over this, so as the reader I don't have to sit, wonder and worry if something really makes sense. It's as though I'm being told, "Look, the time/worm/rabbit-hole just drops you on September 9, 1958 every time. Why try to figure that out?" So I didn't worry about it.
What is important to discuss is something often debated with time travel: If you change the past, even just slightly, will it have a positive or negative effect on the future? It's that "butterfly effect" which is evaluated in depth and it made me wonder what I would choose to do. I sure am glad I don't have to worry about that.
|I love this picture. (image source)|
Stephen King is a MASTER. In the short time I've gotten to know his work, it's refreshing. He leaves the pompous BS alone that some storytellers can succumb to within their fiction, and just tells a story humbly and genuinely, which is probably why his horror is so scary and why his non-horror is also loved. It isn't fake. And in this book, it is simply Jake's story and he tells it all in the first person and describes how he takes on another identity in a time when he hasn't even been born yet, how he has to acclimate to the culture shock of living in a world he knows, but doesn't really know, and simultaneously battles an unseen presence that does everything possible to make sure that the past is not changed.
This is a multi-layered story of coincidences, along with Jake's struggles to stop awful events from happening to good people. All of this in the writing of another author might have gotten jumbled and lethargic. Instead, King deftly maneuvers through the story lines, successfully weaving in history and science-fiction, all the while taking you along for the ride so simple to understand that you're left dealing with the raw emotion of each event.
The bottom line is there's a lot to tackle in this book, what with Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK, and the other events Jake tries to change along the way. And then there is also the other side of living, the human side of love, loss, and regret. It's beautiful and I will not lie, I choked up towards the end. When that last page comes, I felt like I was punched in the gut that it was all over. I hated leaving these characters. Do you remember when you were younger and when you read a book you loved, you hated that the story ended not because it was a good book that was now over, but because you had to suddenly face the reality that the characters you fell in love with really didn't exist? I don't know about you, but I experienced that when I was a kid, and I felt that tonight when I finished the book. I loved Jake, Sadie, Deke...every single one of the good guys. I miss them already.
"Goose walked over my grave, I guess." (Sorta like getting goosebumps).
That I'm a new fan of Stephen King so when he brings back a character from a prior book, I don't realize it at all. I instead just like the character and then I find out from friends that so-and-so is from such-and-such, and man, did they love them. It bums me out that I couldn't experience fan-girl joy when a character returns. It's probably a lesson I should read King's work in the order of when it was published.
About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know? So here you go, click here to visit this cool author's official website.