Thursday, June 07, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

The only Stephen King book I ever read before 11/22/63 was The Shining--being a Colorado native and a fan of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, how could I not read it?  I'm not interested in horror as a genre, and I tend to avoid pop-culture icons like King as a matter of course.  However, I love time travel stories and I have been interested in JFK my entire life.  One of my first memories is of my mom crying on the phone after she heard about his assassination when I was five years old.  Given all of this, I decided to read King's 11/22/63.

I absolutely loved it and shelved all other reading so that I could simply forge my way through all 849 pages at breakneck speed. 

Quickie synopsis - Jake Epping is a schoolteacher who eats at a local greasy spoon that is notorious for its low prices.  The proprietor of the diner is dying of cancer and shares a secret with Jake--there is a portal to the past, Sept 1958 to be exact, in his diner and he has been routinely visiting the past to buy supplies for his diner, hence the low, low prices he can charge for meals.  He also has started playing around with the past, and has been working on a project to try to stop the assassination of JFK.  However, since the cancer is killing him, he enlists Jake to take over the project.  Jake agrees and travels to September 1958 and puts together a plan to stop Oswald before he can kill the president.  Along the way, he finds a life that he prefers to the one he left behind in 2011.

I found the story absolutely gripping and Jake an entirely believable character. As one who has thought long and hard about how I would deal with time travel should I ever find my own rabbit hole, I loved reading about Jake's reactions to the world of the 1950's/60's. 

I came to really respect King's skills as a writer and storyteller, particularly his ability to create a shadowy, malevolent character, really the villain of the story, out of the past.  As Epping lives out the five years he has to mark in the past before he can strike Oswald down, he learns that the "past is obdurate"--it does not want to be changed and will fight to not be changed.  It plays dirty and throws accidents at Jake left and right to try to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  This is such a cool idea, and shows King to be a master of the pyschological thriller.  Most writers settle for creating tangible villains, but King has created a completely conceptual villain, which is brilliant because this is a villain that cannot be beaten even when you think you have done so.

I also thought that King's pacing was excellent--unlike some thrillers that never give you time to breathe, this one provided periods of relative calm in which Epping could explore and enjoy the world in which he landed--he could dance, go out to dinner, make friends, fall in love, and basically live--before the next crisis overwhelmed the normalcy.  I think that's the hallmark of a great thriller, unexpected thunderbolts are so much more unnerving than ones that come from stormy skies.

A completely enjoyable read and one that was refreshingly different from most of the books I tend to read.  Viva la difference!


  1. I'm so glad that you liked this, and I love your observations about how time itself is a villain. I agree too about the pacing in this one. King doesn't always get that right (his endings sometimes pile on too much), but he nails it in this book.

  2. I keep hearing wonderful things about this King novel. Another great review!

  3. Hi Jane, so happy to see you enjoyed too. I like the new gentler King.

  4. I haven't read King since my college 'horror phase'. Have a sample of 11/22/63 downloaded on my nook and really enjoyed the beginning - just know I'll have to read the whole thing eventually. Clearing your reading schedule seems like the perfect approach for this book!

  5. This is only the second King book that I really feel compelled to read (the other was The Green Mile) and I'm sure I'll pick it up soon because I have yet to see anyone who didn't like it!

  6. I read IT last year, and the book convinced me that King is a brilliant storyteller. I'll have to give this one a try at some point.

  7. I have to read this - you know it's on my list to buy as soon as it's out in softcover on July 5!! Yes, I have the date marked :-) Love your review and wishing the next three weeks would fly by!!! lol

    I've read most of what he's written, and I've always thought that despite his going for gore in his horror than the chill, most of what he writes is good storytelling. I'm so looking forward to reading this one.

  8. AnonymousJune 27, 2012

    I've read every Stephen King book ever, and I don't think the word 'gore' to be relevant, referring to his work. His books can show violent characters or behaviours, but you never see blood, splatter or that kind of thing. Edward Lee, Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum'm books are gory indeed. Those of Stephen King remind me sometimes of a darker Ray Bradbury, with a real sense of wonder, and a wonderful ability to depict the inner world of childhood. Excuse my approximate english, fir it is not my native language... (Vincent, from Nancy, France)