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Book Review - 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King

Category Book Review Stephen King 11/22/63: A Novel
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While I end up liking most of the books that I read by Stephen King, he isn't an author that I salivate over when something new comes out. I'm not sure why, as I like the genre and the style of writing. Perhaps I'll chalk it up to having too many other things to read. :)  Anyway, 11/22/63: A Novel caught my interest in terms of what it might be like to go back and prevent an event in history that changed the world. Once I started reading, I was pretty much hooked. King put a slant on the typical time travel story that threw my expectations out the window and had me thinking about the "what if" moments of life...

The story revolves around Jake Epping, an ordinary teacher with an ordinary life... that is, until Al, the owner of the local diner, shows him something unexplainable. In the pantry, there is a "hole" that leads back to September 9th, 1958.  It's the same location at the same time with the same people every time they go through the passage. Furthermore, the exact same actions and events start happening when they arrive, and nobody there remembers that Jake or Al were ever there. If you think of the movie "Groundhog Day", you get the idea.  Regardless of how much time Jake or Al spend in the past, only two minutes elapse in current time.  Stay in the past for a year, come back, and it's only two minutes later.  Jake and Al have aged that one year, but nothing else has.

Al shows all this to Jake for a reason... Al is dying of cancer, and he has a plan in mind. He wants Jake to cross back over to 1958 and live the next five years with a single purpose: to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. He believes that many of the problems of today can be traced back to that pivotal event, and he wants to change history at that point in time. He leaves Jake a detailed notebook on Oswald's life and movements up to the point of the shooting, and Jake needs to make sure he doesn't do anything in that five year period to alter Oswald's life and erase the point in time where he can stop Kennedy's death.  But as Jake finds out, "the past is obdurate", and it will work at making sure that history plays out as intended with no interference.  And the bigger the historical change, the harder the past will work at preventing it.

Normally, a time travel story seems to play out along the same lines. Person goes back in time, inadvertently does something to affect the future, and/or meets him/herself along the way.  You could argue that the basics of 11/22/63 are the same, in that a person is going back in time to change or prevent something. But the stakes are higher here, in that Jake has to decide whether or not to spend the next five years of his life pursuing something that may or may not happen if he makes mistakes along the way. He also has to right some wrongs and figure out how best to prevent certain people from acting. He could kill them early, but that might put him in jail with no way to return to the portal to get back to 2011. Or what if the conspiracy theories were true, and Oswald was set-up to take the fall? Killing Oswald wouldn't prevent Kennedy's death. What I found even more mind-bending was what happened when he tried to prevent an accident that put someone in a wheelchair back in 1958. He prevented a stray bullet from paralyzing a woman, and returned to 2011 to find that she had lived a very successful life as a fully-functional adult. But once he went back through the portal, everything from 1958 forward reset, and she was again in a wheelchair in 2011. Even though the person has no knowledge of how history changed for them, does that still make Jake responsible for returning her to a life of paralysis again?  And finally, can you be sure that regardless of how bad things may seem right now, changing a major event in history will really make things better 50 years later?

King pulled off a great novel in 11/22/63. While I thought it was perhaps a bit slow at times when he was shadowing Oswald in the 18 or so months leading up to the assassination, the mental and moral quandaries more than made up for it. I really need to rethink my slowness in reading new King novels, as I'd be a happy reader if I always had material like this to read during my down times.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

Comments

Gravatar Image1 - Tom, you know how much I read -- not as much as you, but a great deal. Stephen Kind is one of a very few authors that has moved UP and not DOWN on my respect with each book. So many authors do something solid and then follow up with crap. I don't even bother with Koontz or Clancy at this point.

The books from King in recent years have been fantastic.

I read this one when it came out and I have to agree with your assessment. This is not one to miss. He takes the common themes and consequences of time travel stories and turns them upside down, putting different kinds of constraints on them and challenging our assumptions about what would have been best. I'm not surprised that King has topped everyone with his "Don't F__K with Fate" theme here -- especially the ending. I loved the ending.

Gravatar Image2 - The ending was definitely unexpected, and really was the best way to wrap it up.

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