Tuesday, March 20, 2012

11/22/63 - Stephen King


About the book

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed forever. 

If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? 
Would the consequences be worth it? 

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. 

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time. 


849 pages
Published on: November 8, 2011
Author’s webpage

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Stephen King and I have an odd working relationship. I just recently read my first King book and decided I loved his writing style so I ventured into his other books. While I absolutely love his Dark Tower (I’m on book three) books, I have a hard time getting through pretty much anything else written by him. I don’t really know why, either. I usually love long books. I love detailed, lyrical prose. I love unique, mind-bending stories, and he is a master of all of that. I just can’t seem to make my interest level last past the halfway point.

I had high hopes for 11/22/63. The subject was well known which meant that King had to do good research to make it believable (which he did). It was also one of his less mind-bendy novels, so it seemed to be the right sort of fodder for what I needed when I read it. So far, 11/22/63 has been getting wonderful reviews. This seems to reinforce the fact that I have no clue what it is about King’s writing that causes me to struggle, but there’s something there.

11/22/63 is a time travel novel. While I’m usually not big on time travel, King does it with style. The protagonist, Jake Epping, finds a time portal of sorts in the back of his friend’s hamburger joint. Then, he starts to wonder what would happen if he traveled back in time and stopped JFK’s assassination. That is the main premise of the book. In typical King fashion, the writing is superb, the story is tightly woven with no real plot holes and his historical detail and research is superb. I learned as more than I should have from a book that was this enjoyable.

Though this book does focus mostly on history, and King paints a wonderful, apple-pie version of 1950’s America, there is also a love story involved. While this takes the back seat to other plot events, the book left me wondering if 11/22/63 was mostly a love story wrapped in an interesting JFK novel.

I really enjoyed 11/22/63, but there were a few issues for me, which probably helped me hit my “seriously, how much longer does this book REALLY NEED to be?” point. For example, the only real reason Jake Epping (who is a rather boring individual and is saved by the grace of an interesting plot), decides to save JFK is because an acquaintance who serves him burgers at a local dive restaurant basically told him to, so he dropped everything and said, “okay.” I don’t buy into that. I can’t honestly believe that any sane, logical person would jump through a rabbit hole because some guy painted them an interesting, “what if” picture. Because that’s the plot point that the whole book hangs on, my ability to believe in the plot was stretched rather thin during most of the book.

Secondly, I did hit that halfway point where I wonder how long King really needs to make a book to tell a story. I got exhausted, and maybe that’s my problem with most Stephen King books. While he’s an excellent storyteller, and some of his descriptions border on genius, his books are just too long for the stories they contain and the characters, like Jake Epping, is too boring to fill a book that long. 11/22/63 would have been a wonderful book if it had been shorter.

11/22/63 wasn’t the book for me, but it seems to be a real hit with most people. King is a wordsmith, and his prose are easily what gets him to be a top selling author with each book he releases. His world comes alive with his unique and powerful descriptions. He did plenty of research when writing this book, and it shows. This book could have worked if it was shorter, and Jake Epping was a bit more interesting. Perhaps I’m a bad person to review a King book, as most of them just don’t hit the right spot for one reason or another, but despite my qualms, 11/22/63 is a strong book that will appeal to both fantasy and fiction fans alike.

3.5/5 stars

2 comments:

  1. Good review! I used to love SK, and still do love many of his older works. But I haven't enjoyed his more recent offerings (mainly books written after his accident), which somehow don't have the same intensity. Have you tried any of his short story collections?

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    1. No! I didn't know he had any. I will look them up and see if any are at the library. Thanks for the tip!

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