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Set in the town of Lisbon Falls, Maine USA, 11.22.63 is one of Stephen King's more recent publications having been released in 2010. Being one of my favourite authors the decision to purchase the book was a no-brainer for me, with the cursory glance at the blurb on the back hardly being necessary at all as I already had a good idea of the storyline and plot, just not the in's and out's which I managed to avoid.
Even if a non-King fan picked this book up I feel that their first impressions would be positive as this isn't Stephen King's usual fare, with a plot focussed around the Kennedy assassination and time travel I was already looking forward to a slightly out of the ordinary read, and my mind working overtime on the different directions the story may take.
Whilst the story of 11.22.63 concentrates on the assassination of President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy as the date suggests, the story is actually told in the first person from the point of view of divorced English teacher Jake Epping. We join Jake whilst he is running evening classes for adults and as unlikely as it seems this is where the scene begins to be set. One of Jake's students Harry Dunning writes a piece on the theme of "The Day that Changed My Life" and manages to get top marks, not necessarily because of the quality but rather the sincerity and severity of the content that touched Jake. Harry wrote Halloween 1958 when he escaped being murdered by his alcoholic father whilst his mother, sister and two older brothers weren't so lucky. Whilst this doesn't seem to have much relevance to the plot at all this sets the book up nicely for somewhat of an introduction to time travelling.
Jake Epping is later invited to the home of diner owner Al Templeton, where he is told that Al has discovered a way to travel through inside the pantry of his diner. Whoever walks into the pantry is transported back to Sept 9th 1958 and no matter how long is spent in 1958 time in the past carries on as normal as does the life and ageing process of the time-traveller, how-ever upon coming back it is only ever 2 minutes that have passed in the present. Every time the time portal is used to come back to the present the changes made stay in effect, but travel back again and the changes will be undone ready to begin changing the very fabric of time once again.
When Jake is first told of the portal he is obviously sceptical and wonders if the old man standing in front of him has actually gone mad. Eventually Jake is convinced to try the portal and when he returns to do so 24 hours later he finds an even older Al waiting for him, having spent a long while in the past whilst only being gone for 2 minutes, this is when Al shares his big plans regarding the prevention of the Kennedy assassination using the portal in his pantry. Still not convinced of the repercussions that the actions of preventing this assassination will have, or whether it would actually have any benefits, Jake is still in need of reassurance. Between Al and Jake they devise a plan revolving around Harry Dunning's piece of work to see what the results of preventing the murder of his family would be when Jake returned to the future. Jake decides to go ahead with this and it is upon returning to 1958 with the intention of changing the past that he begins to realise the past will fight him with the intention of stopping the changes. Despite problems Jake decides that the Kennedy plan is feasible upon his return to the present and this is where the story really starts.
Al Templeton whilst being too old and ill to make the 5 years that lapse between the Kennedy assassination and the portal's start point in 1958, has got together a whole pile of information regarding Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's killer, from the time he has managed to follow him that may well help Jake out. Al explains he believes that the world would have been a better place without the Vietnam war, and what he saw as poor political decisions that wouldn't have happened if Kennedy was in power.
Whilst there is a whole lot more I could put in here I feel the main points have been covered and think that much more detail would completely ruin the first quarter of the book for anyone looking to read it. The results of time travel as well as the results of changing the course of history are well covered here making for a great plot, as well as throwing up plenty of other questions along the way to keep the reader intrigued to discover if Jake not only managers to save the Epping family but also whether he actually manages to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
In short I thoroughly enjoyed this book, there were very few slow places and the story is a lot more interesting than the subject matter makes it sound. Packed with excellent vivid descriptions of the 1950's as well as a lot of historical fact it was a lot less intensive to read than I first thought it would be and made for a book that captured my imagination having me reading for hours at a time. Yes the memories from 1958 admittedly seem a little rose tinted at first but this cleverly adds to the feel of the dark story that is unfolding in this bright and pleasant 50's landscape. The scenes of 1958 at the beginning of the book I'm sure would make anybody want to go for a wander around the Maine of the time, for a browse in the shops and car lots. One thing I did like was the description of one of the cars for sale which is a perfect fit for Christine, the bright red and white Plymouth Fury, who is the title car from one of King's previous novels.
Whilst the descriptions at the start of the book seem very bright and as mentioned slightly rose-tinted, this is counteracted nicely by the darker scenes of the not so nice parts of town Jake is forced to visit whilst pursuing Oswald through the late 50's and early 60's. Another thing that I liked about this book even though I've never visited Maine is Stephen King's comparisons of modern day and 1958, such as one example of shops bustling with live in their heyday of the 50's now derelict, giving a great representation of how time moves on and isn't necessarily kind. King's research for this book is second to none, and he even manages to cover and present quite a bit of information surrounding the multiple conspiracies around the Kennedy assassination.
I feel that whilst the initial bones of this storyline could well have been thought of by everybody, I am more than glad it is Stephen King that did. This is because I feel that the quality of King's story telling when he gets it damn near perfect as he has here, in my eyes makes for an awesome read. Whilst this book was a mammoth 752 pages long at no point did it feel as though I was struggling to get through it, the end of the story is quite conclusive and I still found myself wanting more even though there was very little indeed that King had left unanswered at the end.
In conclusion I would have to say that this is one of Stephen King's better releases and I would most certainly place it amongst his top 10 pieces of work from the numerous titles I have read from his massive back-catalogue of titles. I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who has previously read a Stephen King book, even those that don't enjoy King's novels but still have even a passing interest in the Kennedy assassination will more than likely still find this book quite engrossing. I would say that this is more of a psychological thriller than a full on horror, with a half decent and entertaining history lesson thrown in for good measure. This is maybe not King's usual stomping ground but the sci-fi, horror edge to this tale helps King's writing style to come through, whilst the unusual subject matter for him only seems to make reading this book a more enticing proposition.
The questions thrown up within the book regarding not only the plot but the results of time travel itself are dealt very well indeed leaving very few open ends. The characters are all written very well indeed and fit in snugly amongst the plot and seem right at home in King's novel, even down to the appearance of the red Plymouth Fury for sale in the car lot seeming unforced. Stephen King differentiates what he knows to be fact and what is conspiracy along the way as well and does extremely well to do this without ruining the feel or flow of the book.
The only real complaint that I have heard from others with regards to 11.22.63 is the fact that the time travel elements of the story do not add up. Personally I feel that even if time travel did exist very few of us would understand the inner workings, so in my opinion what these individuals see as loose ends only serve to make the book more captivating to the average reader and purely leaves them to form their own opinion on a matter that in the end doesn't affect the quality, readability or outcome of this book.
Overall a brilliant book from Stephen King and as previously mentioned one I would rate amongst his best, and most certainly one of his best from recent years. This title carries a most definite 5/5 star recommendation from me, even to those who have never read or considered reading a King novel before.
Stephen King 11.22.63
Why read this?
I like King's writing style, this one was written in first person and I wanted to see how King presented that. I was intrigued by the cover depicting Kennedy on the day of his assassination and the blurb was compelling. Quoted as compulsive, irresistible and addictive I had to buy this book.
If you could go back in time and change an event in order to prevent bad things happening would you do it? Jake Epping is encouraged to do just that by his friend who has attempted it and failed. It is down to Jake to change the world - this will change his life too. Has he got the guts to take someone out, someone who is not afraid to handle a gun, someone who is a little crazy? Step down into the rabbit hole and find out.
As ever with King I am comfortable and tempted to read on right from page one. A writer will strive to make the first sentence in a book compelling, it needs to grab the reader and make them inquisitive enough to read on. The first line in this book 'I have never been what you'd call a crying man' did just that. What would make this man, Jake Epping, cry?
At little over seven hundred pages this tome of a book felt a little intimidating initially but I have been there before with King, I have journeyed with him and his characters to the Dark Tower and know that there will be little to bore me throughout the pages. I am not wrong, I would struggle to select any part of this prose that felt unnecessary. I just finished reading it and to think back to the beginning feels like some time ago as it took me quite a while to get through it - part of me wanted to slow the pace down to make it last longer and I fought the urge to plough through it quickly.
There are two main protagonists in this book. This happens to be the same guy, Jake will become George (not a name he relished) when he goes back in time to a place that is familiar but unfamiliar. Mr George Amberson to be precise. Initially I was concerned that I would be confused, would he be back and forth in time or would he settle in and stay? That was for me to find out. I soon became fond of Jake, a teacher who had a real knack with the kids, one of those who you will remember fondly years after graduating. He was a good guy. So my question was 'how was King going to make this good guy kill in cold blood?'
There are not many characters from the 'now' period in time that I got to know very well. Al Templeton, the guy who urges Jake to undertake this massive task, got to be developed well enough for me to like him but it was not necessary to do more than that. This prose is not so much about the 'now' as it sits firmly in the past. When Jake finally settles down into his role in the past he embraces his new identity tenaciously and begins a treacherous battle to change the course of the future. One thing that you will learn fast when riding with George is that the past does not want to be changed, it will fight you all the way and it fights mean.
I felt undertones of the 'Dark Tower' and 'It' within the composition but that has happened before in King's novels, his characters or concepts will make an appearance and for me it makes it all the more compelling and thought provoking. The fragility of our world as we know it is presented in a way that bends the mind. I think that is why I took my time all the more with the book as I had so many 'aha' moments.
To say that King did impeccable research into the time period that he slots George into is an understatement. It feels to me like King has experienced everything first hand, like he really has got some passage back in time. The smells of pollution, threats of nuclear war, taste of unprocessed food and full fat appetisers is astounding. Clothing, banking, betting and renting of property are all vivid. This is consistent throughout and makes for a satisfying read.
Once again his main character is writing, I like this theme that often appears in his prose. He writes what he knows and why not, it works. George is a teacher by profession, though, and back in time he slots into a community and school with ease. He has his alibis and his double identity under control, not to mention his 'other business' that is a story ever unfolding before the readers eyes.
Even though we know the events, we know about Lee Oswald and what happened on that fateful day, King unfolds the events (with some artistic license) with precision and believable ease. I would have thought that it would just be a waiting game. Some planning and then waiting for Oswald to set himself up in his sniper station, then George could take him out - simple as that. But that was not to be. What you get instead is a whole development of other relationships, characters and scenarios that engross you as much, if not more.
Enter Sadie. I am, once again, gobsmacked. It's such a surprise, a nice one, to have a romantic element within the tale. With a lady tugging at his heartstrings this means that there is much more scope for obstacles to be placed in the path and boy are there some developments that shock (no surprise there) and are emotive. Would Jake Epping cry? He has never been a crying man.
There are lots of subplots in the prose that I really got into and invested in. I began to care for other characters from the past and dislike some too. As you would expect there are some bad guys in this tale and when they set to work they don't hang back. Description, once again, is utterly believable when George experiences pain - I'll leave it at that, you'll need to read to find out for yourself.
After all the twists and turns, concepts, subplots and emotion the finale draws near. Will George succeed in his task? Will the past halt his plans, it will stub him out if need be - trees can fall unexpectedly George, watch out. If Lee Oswald is stopped and Kennedy lives what will the effect on the future be? Will it be for the better, prevent further wars? Or will things be worse? How will the past react? Will it take revenge in a butterfly effect that touches the lives of many?
The latter end of the prose is pacey. Race against time stuff as you may guess, but I didn't guess the outcome, that was a surprise and a shock. Was Al Templeton right, or is this messing with fire?
'I have never been what you'd call a crying man'.
www.bookbutler.co.uk will provide a list of competitive prices.
You can pick up copies for less, either used or new, from Amazon.
If you like King's work give this one a whirl, it's a hefty tome at over 700 pages but personally I like a longer read. The realistic description of the past time period is outstanding and a sterling job has been done by King's aids. Right down to how the police placed bugs into telephones, just breath-taking. Storyline and plot is solid with plenty juicy subplots to keep you entertained whilst waiting for Oswald to set up home with his wife and baby. Artistic licence is used but the timeline and events that took place leading up to Kennedy's assassination are well covered. Pace is good and builds up well at appropriate times, I was hooked. First person narrative works very well and it was interesting to see how a master of storytelling did with this approach. A fine job. A little romance sits well and King works some emotive themes in too, I liked it as it made it all the more real and the main protagonist believable and likeable. Highly recommended.
Published on Ciao
© dawnymarie 2014
11.22.63 - Stephen King
In reference to the title of this review, I was born in nineteen sixty-seven but after reading 11.22.63 I felt like I had been transported there just as the lead character in the book had.
I have been a Stephen king fan since nineteen seventy-eight; so basically, thirty-four years. Just sitting back and thinking that makes me think 'My God, where has all that time gone?' The irony of time and its relevance to this book is not lost on me or, I'm sure, the millions of readers that have been privileged enough to read it.
I have read over fifty King novels and have signed books in my collection. There are many books that I love and many epic tales, such as 'The Stand' and 'It' that will forever be a testament to King's imagination and prowess as a story teller. However, for me, King's Dark Tower series must go down as one of the best fantasy, horror crossover tales ever told. Tolkien may have created one of the best, if not the best, imaginary world in 'Middle Earth' but believe me Stephen King's 'Mid-World' runs it a close second. I think even Tolkien would've doffed his cap to King for the sheer scope and diversity that us readers are privileged to witness when reading these books.
I felt I had to mention other books by King because he has always woven an underlying base story that covers all his books. They all tie-in somehow and the Dark Tower books are the crux of this coming together of parallel universes and common ground.
My two favourite stand-alone King books are probably 'It' and 'Christine'; Christine because I have read it three times and it was what got me hooked on King and It for being such a perfect book.
Again I mention these two books in particular because there are references too them both in 11.22.63; especially to my delight a major part from 'It'.
So before I wax lyrical about this fantastic novel (and at seven hundred and forty pages it is an epic) let's take a look at the plot.
Jake Epping is a divorced high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The story is told in the first-person narrative. Jake assigns his evening adult class for adults, who want to improve their education, with an essay titled "The Day That Changed My Life". One of the students, a janitor named Harry Dunning, writes about how his alcoholic father murdered his mother Doris, his two elder brothers and a younger sister while severely injuring Harry himself, on Halloween night in 1958. Jake is deeply affected by the story and gives Harry an A+; Harry earns his diploma.
Two years later, Al Templeton, owner of a local diner which Jake often dines at, mysteriously summons Jake to his home. It is the end of the school year and Jake has almost finished all his marking, so out of curiosity he visits Al. Jake is shocked to see that, in less than twenty-four hours since he saw him last, Al has apparently become deathly ill, and seems to have aged four or five years.
Al sheepishly tells Jake that he has a time portal in his pantry and has been using it to travel back to nineteen fifty-eight for quite a while now. The portal specifically takes Al back to September 9th 1958 and Al tells take that whenever he goes back in time and no matter how long he goes for, whether it be one day, one week or one year, whenever he returns only two minutes have passed in the present time.Jake is obviously dubious and wonders if Al is losing is mind. Al asks Jake to give it a try. To his astonishment, the portal is for real. Jake spends an hour in 1958, and then returns to 2011 to find that only two minutes have passed. Al tells him that the portal always leads to that same moment in 1958, and that it is always exactly two minutes later on return to the present.
The only person near the portal in 1958 is a drunken, dirty man whom Al has dubbed the "Yellow Card Man", because of a yellow card stuck in his hat band. The Yellow Card Man seems to be the only other person who is aware of the time portal. Al has learned that it is possible to change history; the problem is that once you return to 2011 you can see what your changes have altered in the present but once you step back into 1958 it appears that a total reset takes place and everything reverts to exactly how it was.After discovering he could change history, Al became obsessed with preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, assuming this would lead to a better world without the Vietnam War and many other country or world changing decisions. Al extensively researched the JFK assassination, and made a plan to wait in the past for the opportunity to kill Lee Harvey Oswald during his attempted assassination of General Edwin Walker. He has written down four years' worth of study from 1958 to 1962 in a notebook, which he gives Jake.
The book contains Oswald's addresses and movements, right up to the build-up to the assassination attempt on Kennedy. However, the "obdurate" past seems to resist change, throwing up obstacles to prevent them from taking place; Al and Jake conclude this resistance is proportional to the historical effects of the changes. Al was forced to abort his plan in 1962 after developing terminal lung cancer due to his lifelong habit of smoking. He pleads with Jake to carry out his mission for him. He tells Jake that he gained as much information on Oswald's movements in 1963 as he could from the internet and books on JFK.Jake decides to use the attack on Harry's family as his test case to prove he can change history. Al gives him a fake ID to create the alias "George Amberson", and a supply of 1958 cash he has collected. Jake tells Al that if his mission to change history regarding Harry Dunning is successful and that he can see the changes when he returns to 2011, then he will consider taking on the mission of saving JFK.Jake finds the "Yellow Card Man's" card has mysteriously turned orange this time. He tentatively spends a few days back in 1958 and tries to blend in before buying a car and travelling to Derry to stop Harry's father. (I will not give away a spoiler here and will not include how Jake's first trip pans out).
On returning to 2011 Jake sees that the effects of his actions do affect the future and agrees to travel back to save JFK. Al reminds him of the reset so Jake knows that whatever he did the first time will now be undone.
Jake sets off into 1958 to change history and maybe mess with the very fabric of time and space itself.
Although it may seem that I have delved deeply into the story with the premise, believe me, I have not. That is basically the prologue and the general crux of the plot. At seven hundred and forty pages it is a monumental story and one that I absolutely loved reading.Firstly, I love time-travel stories, so it was right up my street anyway. Add to that the fact that it is Stephen King, one of my favourite authors, probably my favourite at a push, and the author of the 'Dark Tower' series, which for me is probably one of the best time-based fantasy adventures ever written, and I was presented with a heady cocktail of sure-fire, almost guaranteed entertainment.I was not disappointed one bit and will gladly say that it is one of my favourite books of the last ten years. I once wrote a review or reviews for the Dark Tower books. One Ciao member (you know who you are) said that the reviews made her want to read the books. She did so and went on to write her own great reviews on them and become a massive fan of the series herself. To that person I say, if you haven't read this yet, then you simply must!King always makes believable characters and Jake Epping is just that.
If you take the fantastical plot line into account, it makes it even more superb that this character is so well drawn. Of course you have to deal with the 'That wouldn't happen in real life' blubbing's of the mentally challenged but even they would have to admit that the character handles the situation admirably; although why these people even bother to read 'fiction' at all is beyond me.
As for the other characters in the book, there are some memorable ones and they all fit into their part of the story like a jigsaw piece that has found the right spot. Critics have often given negative comments about King's prose and treated him with a disdain that only the snooty have for writers of the horror genre, but make no bones about it, King is an amazing writer who has matured along with his craft over the last five decades.I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the novel 'It' and 'Christine are mentioned.
Those of you who have read 'It' will know that a lot of the book is set in nineteen fifty-eight and I don't think it is any coincidence on King's part that Jake Epping and Al Templeton before him are stepping into that same year. Jake actually meets and converses with Richie Tozier (beep beep Richie) and Beverly Marsh, who fans will know from 'It'. There is also mention of another character from the same novel but I'll let you try and work that one out for yourselves. When Jake first steps back into nineteen fifty-eight, he rubs his hands along the hood of a Plymouth Fury that is white on red in colour (obviously Christine or at least another white on red Plymouth Fury). The same car also appears on numerous occasions throughout the novel and this will not be lost on fans. I found myself crowing with glee when he rubbed his fingers across the Plymouth's hood and I loved the scene with Richie and Bev.11.22.63 is essentially a time-travel story but it is also educational in the history sense of the word and King's descriptions of the fifties are so spot-on that you could almost swear you were there. It is also a love story and a story of courage, hope and forgiveness.
I found myself with the book in my lap, contemplating what I would do in some of Jake's situations. I found myself pondering on how different things could be with just one small change in history. The butterfly effect is also talked about in the book. For those of you not familiar with that, the butterfly effect is based on the consequences a butterfly's wings and how the wind generated from them could affect something much farther away over a vast length of time. In simplistic terms that sort of explains it, but if you want to know more then look up 'Chaos Theory'. The book mentions it in relation to Jake making a small change in the past that could have massive repercussions on future events.
All in all it is a fantastic story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and you want to know what will happen next; at least I did anyway.I think King was very brave to tackle such a touchy subject because the John F Kennedy assassination still pains many Americans to this day. In fact King was toying with this idea in nineteen seventy-two, even before his first book 'Carrie' was published, but he decided that it was too big a project to take on while he was still working as a school teacher and still young. There was also the fact that it was still only nine years after the assassination and still so much in the public eye. King has been quoted as saying that he was glad he waited. On that score I totally agree with him and I am glad that he waited too.
On the side of the actual events or shall we say the non-fiction side of things the real characters, such as Lee Harvey Oswald, His wife Marina and Jackie Kennedy are portrayed with an uncanny perfection. It is no secret that King researched this book to the hilt and left no corner unturned. Of course there will be a lot of Conspiracy theorists who believe that Oswald wasn't working alone but that is also covered in this fictional account. People will always knock nay-sayers as conspiracy theorist but there is no smoke without fire. It comes from all walks of life. I don't believe we went to the moon in sixty-nine and I get people being really angry with me, but the truth is that the facts point to it not happening miles more than they point to it having taken place. I'm an atheist but you will not believe the lengths people will go to to prove the existence of God to me, when one, I am not interested and two, they can't. So to a certain extent I can see how dangerous a book this was for King to write, but at the end of the day, he went ahead and did it because it is fictional and one thing that Moon landing believers and Jesus worshippers can't do, even when they seem to think it is alright for them to have an opinion but not for anyone else, is disprove fiction, because at the end of the day it is made up; How ironic is that?
I would like to think that this review won't start any stupid debates as I have neither the time nor the inclination to get involved. What I wrote above are just my opinions and I am entitled to them. They neither hurt anyone nor should affect anyone and I was merely using them as an example towards the attitude to King's book.
People have also argued that the time-travel aspects of the book weren't explained enough; such as paradoxes and strings. I think that is what makes the book so fantastic; the fact that King doesn't feel the need to explain everything because in reality if this happened to anyone it wouldn't be able to be explained in all likelihood, so the point is moot.
King changed the original ending to the book to, what he has said himself, was a better one. The idea of the change came from Joe Hill, the author whose real name happens to be Joe King, Stephen King's son. King writes in his afterword 'You rock Joe'. Hill is a great author in his own right now and I think it took guts to use a pseudonym and make is own way instead of taking the easier route and writing off the back of his famous Father's name.
To sum it all up, this is a fantastic novel and one of King's best for a number of years (even though those other books were still brilliant). It could be seen as a different book for King and against his horror books it certainly is but lovers of the Dark Tower books and 'IT', which is essentially a horror novel, will love this.You can pick up the paperback relatively cheaply from eBay or Amazon and the hardback can be purchased cheaply too. I prefer the hardback myself. The lazy amongst you can also download the e-book for your kindles (wink).
I give 11.22.63 five out of five stars and only because I can't award it a six.Thanks for reading.
I'm a big fan of Stephen King, and I have read a lot of his books- half of my bookshelves are taken up by his work. I've felt that his novels from the last decade or so have been less enjoyable than his earlier work though- it's not to say that I didn't like them, more that I prefer his earlier stuff, like The Stand and It.
11/22/63 changed all of this. I picked this up in paperback after seeing it in a supermarket on a Saturday morning. I hadn't realised that he'd released a new book- I'd been a bit out of touch with what books were being released at the time. As it was only £4, I gave it a go, plus the fact that the subject matter (both of them- time travel and Kennedy) had always interested me.
I'm glad I did. Wandering down that aisle randomly (I don't usually buy books from supermarkets, I'm more of a charity shop person), seeing that book and buying it was probably the best thing I did that week...
Jake Epping is a teacher from Maine (where else!) and through a friend, happens to find himself able to time travel- but only back to September 9th, 1958. He sets upon a mission to stop the assassination of President Kennedy, which means that he has to live five years before his plan can come to action. Not that it all runs smoothly- he has to "reset" a few times, meaning that he lives many years in the past.
Now, I don't understand the ins and outs of time travel, but I loved the time travel aspects of this book purely because there was only one place and time that he could travel to, and live the rest of the time in, let's say "real-time" because it's the only name I can think of. Don't get me wrong, I love all sorts of time travel stories, but because this has real limits, I think it makes it all the more interesting.
Jake has many problems in the story, including the inevitable falling in love. Sadie is the librarian at the school where Jake takes a job, and she has a strange, intriguing yet dangerous past. As I've mentioned, things don't always go to plan for poor Jake, and when tragedy occurs, Jake has to reset and live through many years before even meeting his love again.
I won't say what happens in the end- there's a difference between a review and an all-out spoiler I think, but I loved the end. Overall, I believe that this is an excellent book and I recommend it to everyone, even those to whom Stephen King has never appealed. I think that it's enough like some of his other books to draw in his fans, as well as little nods to his other books almost everywhere in the story, but I also think that the subject is different enough for some who have never read his books to enjoy.
Forgot to add: After starting reading this book on a Saturday afternoon, I had finished it by Sunday lunchtime as I just couldn't put it down.
11.22.63 is, at its heart, a book all about the Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald but, as you might expect from veteran author Stephen King, ends up becoming so much more. It is at once a love story, a book about consequences and the dangers of what-ifs and a book about a period of time in America's history that has now been lost to us forever!
Jake Epping is a high school teacher who hosts Adult education classes and has an inability, largely, to shed any tears, even when emotional. But when he reads a submission by one of his students, the tears come flooding. The story of how Harry Dunning's dad killed all the rest of his family and left Harry for dead affects him so much, he instantly gives his student an A.
Months later, Jake gets a call. His old time friend Al, who runs a local diner, needs a favour. But when Jake turns up, Al has seemingly aged overnight and is now dying from Cancer. Al has a confession to make which is tied in with the secret of how he can keep the prices of his burgers so low. Contrary to popular belief, he is not using cat or dog meat in his minced pattys but has been going back to 1958 to source his meat. For at the back of his diner, in the pantry, is a wormhole in time.....a rip that takes the traveller back to the same point in 1958 every time you go through....
And Al wants Jake to go back, wait there for all the intervening years, and then stop the assassination of JFK!
At first, Jake refuses to believe. But then he goes through the wormhole and finds himself in another time. There is no explanation for it, but it happens and so, reluctantly, Jake decides to agree.
To prove that the future can be changed, first Jake decides to intervene in the night Harry's family were killed. When he returns to discover that it can, he then crosses over again. But he has to live through those events all over again if he wants the future to remain changed because every trip through the wormhole triggers a reset. Which also means that he has only one chance to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK.....which is all well and fine until Jake starts making a life for himself in the past. And that's where things get complicated....
I absolutely loved this and thought it a brilliant novel that crossed several boundaries and ticked many different boxes. Fans of Mr.King will be simply delighted to see Jake travelling to Derry in '58, just after the events in the first half of earlier King novel IT, and, as well as a couple of awesome cameos from characters in that book, there a lot of other King references to spot along the way. Most notably in the frequent appearances of a Plymouth Fury ~ Christine anyone?
To call this a book about Kennedy, as it has been pretty much marketed as since day one, is a bit of a misnomer. This is a book all about the late fifties-early sixties and, in actual fact, Kennedy's assassination only comes in right at the end! Before then, this book is simply amazing as Jake struggles to reconcile the difficulties of living in an earlier age with the fact that he is, here, a man without a past.
One very poignant, but small moment, comes when Jake is travelling to where he intends to create his new life, at least for the time being. Stopping at a gas station, he sees three signs - one marked ladies, one marked men and the last marked coloureds. This last sign points away from the gas station and when Jake follows it, he discovers that the convenience that coloured people are supposed to use is a board with a hole in balanced across a stream; accessible only through scrub bush and poison ivy. This is a poignant moment, not least because it is a true account of that time, and is just one of the many observations that helps set King's storytelling heads and shoulders above the rest!
King has often been accused of being a bit wishy-washy....but not here! This is one of his best books in the last few years and makes for compelling reading! It is not perfect, and I must confess to being a little disappointed by the end which didn't end the way I wanted it to (hence the 4*) but it is about as good as it gets and proves once again that King is MORE than just a horror writer!
I've been a massive Stephen King fan for years, but his latest few have passed me by - I decided to remedy that by downloading a copy of 11.22.63 for my kindle, and found it such an engrossing story that I've had sleepless nights and was bitterly disappointed when I read the final page.
High School teacher Jake Epping is an ordinary 2011 guy; he has a failed marriage behind him, but is just starting to get over this and move on. One day he gets a call from the owner of his local diner, Jake doesn't know Al well (if at all) but is intrigued enough to meet him and find out what he wants from him. It's quite a biggie. When the men meet it's obvious that Al is dying of lung cancer, dying as in on his last few hours - this dying mans request to Jake? That he steps through a portal to 1958, lives in that era for five years and then prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy. Jake is sceptical, but a brief trial of the portal convinces him - time is of the essence and he makes the very quick decision to abandon his modern life and take on the past. He has a personal score to settle; a disabled man in his adult learners course tells him a story of how his father slaughtered the rest of his family, leaving him crippled. Jake decides to change the past and prevent this massacre - but it's when Lee Harvey Oswald comes on the scene that things start getting interesting.
The book has a really strange tempo, it works (obviously, this IS Stephen King!) but takes a bit of getting used to. An example is the fact that Jake had been thrown into his 1958 persona (George Amberson) within a few short chapters of the book, yet a whopping great chunk is taken up on minute details of George's daily life (not Jake - don't worry, it's more straightforward in the book). I loved the confusion that was so obvious in Jake's character and really felt for him as he got to grips with time travel - the longer he spent in the past the more at home he seemed to feel, getting caught up in events that happened years before he was even born. I actually think Jake/George is one of the best characters Stephen King has ever created; he's kind, thoughtful and organised - armed only with a folder of notes written by Al during his sojourns to 1958, George uses his initiative to track down and monitor Oswald for years before the assassination.
I caught a hint of conspiracy theory through the novel, as George set about to find out whether Oswald worked alone or was part of a wider conspiracy. It's a matter for theologians now, but it's fairly widely accepted that the world would have turned out very differently if JFK had lived to complete his presidency and King explored this well. References to the 'butterfly effect' are scattered throughout the book, although for someone trying to dip into the past to do a job in relative safety George did a lot of things that could have changed the course of history even without preventing the death of the president - such as falling in love with a woman who (in his modern day life) would be 80 years old, even considering taking her back to 2011 with him when his work was done.
The romance between George and Sadie was a sweet kind of love, the type of relationship you'd imagine from a couple in the late 50s-early 60s. It took a while for me to warm to Sadie but she grew on me, and once I realised I liked her she was one of those characters that you really do wish all the best for. There were a couple of minor sex scenes between George and Sadie, thankfully fairly detail-less as I find Stephen King writing erotic doesn't quite work so am glad he tends to recognise this and glosses over it as much as possible! Sadie is very important to the 11.22.58 story, you have to concentrate a little on her character before the true depth comes through but once you get to know Sadie you will see how quietly pivotal she is towards events.
Other characters come and go, all well rounded and memorable, but King ensures the focus is always on the relationship between George and Lee Harvey Oswald. It's ingrained in us that Oswald is already the bad guy in this tale, so it felt strange to see him fleshed out in this novel - oh, the author doesn't attempt to make him likeable, but short anecdotes showing his softer side are quite startling.
Overall I found the concept of 11.22.58 to be a fascinating one, and my all-time favourite author did a brilliant job of telling the story. There's no real horror, which surprised me slightly, but the chill factor is well done and highly effective. I enjoyed the time travel aspect and thought his descriptions of the past were spot on and interesting to read, by the very nature of the story it comes across as a little sci-fi but apart from a bit of mind-bending as I tried to get my head around the ramifications of Jake/George changing the past I found the tale very plausible.
The ending is fabulous, and totally stunned me as I had been expecting something completely different. There's an ending and an epilogue, while the epilogue is sweet and ties up a very loose end - the actual 'end' of the story is shocking and frightening. It really made me question the ethics of time travel, and shoved to the fore the fact that even changing a bad episode of history alters so many other aspects of life that the outcome might not necessarily be as good as you'd hoped.
11.22.63 is the latest novel by Stephen King and on the surface is a simple tale of what if?
What if, you could return to America pre-Kennedy assassination and stop Lee Harvey Oswald shooting the president on Deeley Plaza on the 22nd of November 1963 hence the title of the book?
So what if? What would be the consequences and could you do it? When highschool teacher Jake is implored by a dying cafe owner to take on the task he is transported back to 1958.
The book sets out a simple set of events, Jake is asked by Al the cafe owner to go down into his cellar and is taken back to the same moment in time in 1958 each time. The cellar seems to be a passage way back to a real historic 1958 as Al has shown that through his actions in the 1958 he can change the outcome for people in his own time. Al pleads with Jake to finish the job, armed with detailed coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald's movements, some 1950's money and a book of sports results he has to live and survive for 5 years before being able to stop Oswald from assassinating the president.
I should say that some readers may not be familiar with the Kennedy assassination, it seems unlikely but the facts are that on November 22nd 1963 John Kennedy (JFK) was shot and killed whilst riding through Dallas at a place called Deeley Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the crime and it appears that he shot the president from the windows of the now infamous book depository; Oswald was then shot and killed on live TV by a night club owner called Jack Ruby. There was an out-flowing of grief for the young handsome and charismatic president and Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the President that afternoon. The original investigation found that Lee Harvey Oswald who was a disaffected Soviet supporter was the sole gunman but a later inquiry made it clear that there could have been a wider conspiracy, people on the day swore that shots came from the 'grassy knoll' a place to the right of the car and to this day conspiracy theorists have named the FBI, CIA, Russia, the mafia, the army and others as running the conspiracy. Interestingly 10 years ago the conspiracy theory appeared to be well established however now the evidence appears to point to the lone assassin Oswald.
So this book on the surface is an attempt by the author Stephen King to write an alternative history, one looking at the effect of JFK not being assassinated and one where he is. The use of the going back to 1958 gives King plenty of scope to dissect American life in the period of Kennedy's presidency and slightly before, as he says at the start of the novel he was 11 when Kennedy was killed so this period is when the author himself grew up. The book's main theme is that 50's and 60's America was vastly different to the one we have today, the 50's and 60's was a more trusting time with less crime and a perceived lack of judgement of your fellow man. However, we are soon shown the flip side of this with rampant anti-Semitism, racism and sexism with the white middle class white man being at the pinnacle. This book seeks through introspection and like Mark Twain with his Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs court shows us a past America through modern eyes, so here we have plenty of momma's cooking, Friday night football and also rampant homophobia, sexism and a dash of pure suspicion. We also are exposed to the shifting sands of slang, the ease which common speech enters our language when Jake makes a mistake saying chill out and cool rather than swell.
After the initial what's all this about and Jake's first foray into the past, the book begins in earnest we are transported back to America as George Ambleson, school teacher who has to change the past for a crippled young girl who was shot by a deer hunter by mistake and a janitor who has his family killed by his father. Both these are changed and now we are full speed onto 1963 and a meeting with Oswald, Kennedy and the future.
I guess the success and failure of this book is in the writing and in this novel, Stephen King finally returns to form we have one of his most accomplished novels and witness a return to his heights in the 70's when he produced such works as the tommyknockers and the stand. The book weaves a tale through America, we fall in love with a fellow teacher and fall in love with small town America, before being thrust into big city America for the finale, will Jake stop Oswald? Well the answer is read the book and find out, this book was 700 + pages and for this reader it could have been twice as long, the attention to detail is staggering the storylines are credible and fascinating. Everything is in Jakes voice so we live through his thoughts and actions, for any novel with a first person narrative you have to like the narrator and thankfully Jake is a warm pleasant young man with few hard edges. He is intelligent and resourceful and the early adventures only assure the reader that when it comes to the big one he'll get the job done.
This is so far my book of the year (2012), and after a few poor novels has re-engaged me as a reader. The last thought is that I've no idea what pound cake is, but after reading this book I want it as often as possible (you'll have to read the book to work that out). A book which I read whilst on paternity leave and was a perfect pick me up when my little daughter was between feeds, nappies and wind, what more could you want?
The subject matter of Stephen King's latest book - the alphabetically challenged 11.22.63 - should be immediately obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with modern American History. The date will forever be notorious as the day President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
In the almost 40 years since, thousands of words have been written about JFK's assassination and I had some initial concerns about whether King would be able to find a new angle or whether it would just turn out to be another half-baked conspiracy theory to add to the pile.
Thankfully, King manages to give 11.22.63 his own inimitable spin, crafting a deeply immersive and fascinating novel that's hard to put down, despite its prodigious 700+ pages.
Refreshingly, 11.22.63 is not directly about either JFK or (possible) assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Instead, it is the tale of Jake Epping, a 21st century man who is shown a "wormhole" that takes him back to 1958. This allows him to change history in both small and large ways and Jake is urged by his friend to stop Kennedy's assassination. The catch? The wormhole always takes you to 1958 and once back in the past, Jake must live in "real time", waiting five years for the chance to stop the killing. Once he's succeeded, he must return to the present and never use the wormhole again, as this will "reset" everything, undoing anything he did whilst in the past.
This brief synopsis does nothing to capture the depth and complexity of King's book which, as well as being a damn good read, raises all sort of interesting questions about history, human nature and time travel, amongst other things. Of course, the idea of going back in time to avert the worst of human history is not exactly new; it has long been a staple of science fiction novels and TV shows such as Quantum Leap (an influence which is acknowledged -Jake's time travel guide is called "Al"). Yet despite treading a well-worn path, King still manages to come up with a new take on events and make the story feel fresh.
Much of this is down to the way King constructs the tale. Whilst the major keystone of the plot is Epping's attempts to stop Kennedy's assassination, King takes his time to build up to this. Having deftly set up the main principles governing his version of time travel, King leaves the central plotline alone for a long time. Instead, he focuses on Epping's attempts to fit into this new and (to him) strange world; a world where man has not yet set foot on the moon and mobile phones and the internet are the stuff of science fiction.
It's this deep background stuff which really makes 11.22.63 so interesting to read. It's obviously a period that King is very familiar with and he is clearly relishing this trip down Memory Lane. His writing creates such a vivid sense of time and place that you really feel as though you have been transported back to 1950s/60s America with Epping. Even though this world will be completely alien to many readers, King's vivid descriptions help you feel at home.
I did initially have some concerns that this would be little more than a personal wallow in nostalgia for King. Early pages are full of references to 50s things that King obviously remembers from his childhood (particularly foodstuffs and TV shows) and that no longer exist. My worry was that King was about to take a rose-tinted view of the past and forget about the horrible things that also happened. Not so: he is also careful to point out where 1950s America was also a lot worse; a place of segregation, casual spousal violence and extreme poverty and that some things are better left in the past.
There are lots references that will delight fans, too. To test the hypothesis that history really can be changed, Epping takes a detour to Derry in 1958 to prevent a horrible crime. As well as being a great sub-plot in its own right, rich in human interest, it also ties in with King's earlier magnum opus "It". For King fans, it's fascinating to return to finally return to Derry and see what has (or has not) changed, and a chance to catch up with a few old friends. People who haven't read "It" needn't worry, though; it's not an essential part of the plot, it just makes King's universe feel cohesive.
At its heart, though, 11.22.63 works so well simply because it's just such a damn good story. King's fictional characters - mainly ordinary people going about their ordinary lives - feel very real and the extended length of the book gives him plenty of time to create complex histories and personalities for each of them. Similarly, the real historical people (including Lee Harvey Oswald) are just as complex and fascinating. King ensures that their story within this book is consistent with historical fact, but uses his imagination to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. He does this job so well that it's hard not to feel a strong degree of sympathy for assassin Oswald.
Put simply, 11.22.63 grabs you from the start and never lets go. It's an easy book to read (King long ago mastered the art of telling a damn fine story) and kept me guessing right up until the conclusion as to how everything would pan out. Every time I thought I had a fix on where the book was heading, King would throw something else into the mix that was a perfectly logical development within the world he had created, but which sent the storyline veering off in a slightly different direction. I was fascinated by this false/real world King created and by his take on both time travel and the Kennedy assassination. This was a book that I both wanted to end (so that I could find out what ultimately happened), but which I wanted to never end, because it was so good.
King's churned out some consistently great stuff over the last 10 years or so, but this stands up there with the best novels of his career. A well-crafted, fascinating and clever story, it's a fascinating read. The huge 700+ page size might initially be off-putting, but once you start reading, you realise that size really is not important
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011
© Copyright SWSt 2012
This is the first time I've had butterflies in my stomach prior to writing a review. The reason is obvious to anyone who reads my book reviews; I try to put a lot in them and also not to use the same approach as another reviewer. I'm also a huge fan of Stephen King's books and would support them even when he has one of his 'off' periods. Thankfully this is one of his (if not the) best books I've ever read and only goes to show his title of 'America's greatest living novelist' is not challenged yet.
I have waited three weeks for the novel as I can't afford the hardback version yet and all my SK books are eventually bought in hardback, so this was a library version. The trepidation I felt before opening it was enough to make my hands shake. Once I start a King book I'm one step nearer the end and what a book this turned out to be!
I'm used to his epic novels and reading one is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole, I expect anything to happen. It's also allowing myself to step back into the wonder of childhood and give myself completely over to the storyteller, knowing I'm in safe and comfortable hands. Fortunately not too comfortable as I want to feel those icy little thrills creeping over me.
***Through the portal***
In this novel King takes on one of the hardest questions ever posed. What if you could go back in time and change one event? What would that be and whom would you either save or assassinate to effect that change? Most Europeans might consider killing Hitler as the prime target. Quite a few would also consider the Kennedy question, especially since it's a pivotal event in American history with repercussions that affected the world as well. I was in my early teens at the time and it made me cry on hearing the news. Going back to the story, this is the mission given to a reluctant traveller, teacher of English, Jake Epping, when Al, the owner of a diner, shows him a portal to another world, the world of the past, 1958.
Al has been time traveling for a while and was going to attempt to change the course of history, but he has cancer and his time is almost up. He's made copious notes about the events surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald, enough to convince him that Oswald was working alone, despite all the conspiracy theories that suggest otherwise. He's also amassed enough money to sustain him long enough for the five years he would have to live through from 1958 until the events of 1963. For some reason any changes made in the past always reset the year back to 1958 on subsequent trips.
Fascinated, terrified, but with little to lose, Jake suggests a short trial back to the past to change one small local event. A student of his adult education programme has written an essay on how his entire family was butchered by his drunken father, leaving him crippled. If Jake can change that without upsetting the time line too much then he'll consider saving Kennedy. It's a huge chance and not without problems, but with the knowledge that he'll be gone in 2011 for only two minutes, despite how long he stays in the past it's a chance he's willing to take.
***And through the Looking glass***
What follows Jake's trip through the time portal is enough for one book alone, yet having changed the past in some ways; Jake is now committed to the larger and more important event. With five years to live through he has to get used to an America of the past before he was born. This will bring plenty of pleasant and not so pleasant surprises; it will also bring him into contact with a young librarian, Sadie Dunhill, who will become the love of his life. It could also cost him all that he is and all he could become, but that is the mission one man died for, can he do any less?
***Bring on the Good Times***
I'm sure that when King started this book he had an idea of the immensity of the task; in fact he says he considered it back in the 1970's. Fortunately he knew his limitations then and that has been to the reader's advantage. King wouldn't have had the experience of writing, the life experiences that have tested his mettle many times over. But the one thing that clinched it for me was the fact that he has gained the time to mature and look back at the era of the late fifties and early sixties as a time of wonder, of new beginnings, but kept in check by good old-fashioned common sense.
I can only imagine the fun he had writing the book and re-visiting in his characters, the best of the times. I know he puts a great deal of himself into his books and here he gets to write about the things that made America a nation to be proud of once, before politics took over. I could be wrong, but having lived though the sixties and the growth of nations, I've witnessed the sheer joy of being young and having a new voice in what happened to my present and future. It was a crazy time but also great fun and to a teenager those times would shape the adult they became. King writes this with nostalgia for things past but never loses the reality of what mistakes were made.
***Friends and Countrymen***
As we follow Jake's progress through the years, so the characters he meets are portrayed with enough depth to either love or hate them. When King tells a story he invents some wonderful characters that have earned him the comparison to Dickens. Of course the characters are suited to the times, but King has that touch of the absurd, which gives such a range of people, whether made-up or researched. In fact the research on this book is staggering. In his afterward he gives some of the research titles if the reader is interested in source material. He might play that down but you can see how much he has tried to get everything as real as possible and it shows.
I like the way he approached the subject and admire him for his stance on many of the issues brought up by the book. He's dealing with history after all and although the book is a work of fiction, he has clear views on the subject and although he doesn't push those on the reader, he allows for interpretation without compromising his beliefs, I admire that.
***The love of his Life***
I've been pleased with the comments I've read on this aspect of the book. Steve doesn't do romance normally although if you've read 'IT' then you've read one of his best love stories along with the best horror. Jake is one of King's finest characters and Sadie is one of his best leading ladies. If I can just go off topic a moment, I imagine he did a lot of dancing with his wife, Tabitha. That section of the book where his characters are doing the Lindy Hop is just too good to be anything but a memory. Actually the part of the story with Sadie in it may be shorter than the rest, but it gives the book a reason for people who wouldn't normally read his books a chance to see just how well he does write when the horror is toned down. Although you are rooting for Jake al the way through, this is when the book becomes seriously addictive, I couldn't put it down and stayed awake until three am simply because I had to know how it turned out. Of course I wanted the bigger issue to turn out well, but I was more interested in Jake and Sadie by then.
Of course there's a lot more romance in the book. Lee Oswald had a wife and two children. He might have treated his wife badly but King says there is evidence he loved his family when he wasn't obsessed by politics. There's also romance with his pupils and a lovely side story of a young Jock who learns to appreciate a good book. Not just that but to act it as well. It's that attention to detail which makes King such an excellent writer. He knows his classics and often refers to them in his books. With his lead character as an English teacher set in the early 60's he's got a chance to really go to town on that love of detail.
***Demons and Angels. ***
I'm sure you're wondering where's the horror, after all, Steve doesn't do a complete book without horror of some sort? Well there's the horror of the title and the lead up as well as the Kennedy assassination. There's horror in a country that allows such a thing to happen. King's own demons are absent in this and I'm sure he's won his battle with the booze and pills. When he writes of these it's with the confidence of a man at peace with himself. But many of his characters are fuelled by the demon drink, or just plain nastiness. That's why his character makes the trip after all.
There's violence in a lot of the book, as the saying goes ' you can't make an omlette without breaking eggs.' Whether the hero wins or not, the assassination attempt will either go ahead or the killer has to be taken out. In his journey across America, in a time when things were simpler, there was also more open violence and for a teacher, Jake can look after himself. As for the angels, well Jake is seen as a guardian angel for one instance. There are others in hiding. (See if you can spot them).
I'm not going to write much about the time paradox. It's a question fraught with misunderstandings and I've no expertise in this area of science fiction, although I've read a fair bit. I think Steve has put up some good questions and dealt kindly with the answers. There is a lot left unsaid, which is fine by me, I'd rather leave that to his Dark Tower series that does play around a bit with the concept. After reading this book I don't think I'd want to step through any portals though.
I expect you're saying 'about time' but a book this good and having such an epic story it deserves some detail. My aim is to persuade the reader it's a book worth reading, even if you just borrow it and like me, wait until you can afford it. It is a long read at 740 pages but every page is worth it. I know all the arguments against SK, that his books are too long or meander. I refer you back to King himself on that score. Time and again he mentions libraries where children are sat around a storyteller, usually reading 'Billy goat Gruff' or some such tale. The children are spellbound, waiting to see if the monster feeds or the goat gets away.
This is such a story, only it takes longer to tell because the monster has a longer reach and the slayer must be sure he has the right to slay the monster.
I loved the book and can't wait to read it again. I hope you do too.
Thanks for reading if you've got this far. Pricewise you can now buy this at about half price on Amazon at 10 pounds, it's still not available in paperback.
This review may appear on other sites. ©Lfuller2012.
I've been a huge fan of Stephen King's work for nearly 25 years now, even though I do find his novels a little hit and miss. Given that King's last novel, "Under the Dome" was pretty bad, but his one previous, "Duma Key", was one of the best he's ever written, I had high hopes for "11/22/63". This hope was mitigated by the novel making the shortlist for the 2011 "Bad Sex in Fiction" award. But a fan is a fan and even if the novel had been savaged by the critics and won the award, I'd have bought a copy anyway, especially once I'd seen it available for half price.
Older readers and those with some knowledge of history may recognise the date that makes up the title of the novel. November 22nd 1963 was the day US President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, supposedly by Lee Harvey Oswald, although conspiracy theorists may have you believe differently. In King's hands, the narrative asks the question about what a man may do if he had the chance to step back in time and change one of American history's defining moments.
Although the basic idea is perhaps nothing new, this is not so much a story of the assassination, but of the man who is trying to stop it. Jake Epping is a high school teacher in current day Maine until his friend Al shows him a portal that leads from Al's diner into the year 1958. Al wanted to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination, but ill-health prevented him from doing so. Inspired by an essay written by one of his students, Jake gives the portal a try to see if he can change more local history before attempting to change national and world history. With this done, he returns to 1958 to build a life and prepare to stop Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.
The way the story is told is quite interesting, especially as a regular Stephen King reader. He often spends a lot of time building up the characters, making the reader care about them, and then putting them into some kind of situation which then makes up the story. But here, Jake Epping's back story is the story, as he lives his life between 1958 and 1963 and adapts into the new way of life that the timeframe demands of him. Although he's trying to make a life for himself, Jake is aware of his long-term aims for living in the 1960s and so keeps a check on Lee Harvey Oswald. In the way this is woven into the story, King ensures that the reader also never loses track of the main aim of this book, which would otherwise be quite easy to do.
The reason this would be easy to do is due to the quality of King's writing here. He seems to be at his best when writing about a love affair and the main part of Jake's life is his love for Sadie. This is interwoven perfectly with the story of Lee Harvey Oswald. The slightly gentler writing style from King's usual fits in wonderfully with the slower pace of life that existed in the early 1960s compared to how life is now and both Jake and King himself settle in to the era very well, which makes for a decent reading experience in every way.
The other aspect of the story that proved a welcome surprise was how well researched it seemed to be. King isn't someone known for detailed research and, as a horror writer, doesn't need to be. But the sheer amount of historical detail, notably of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, is staggering here. When this historical accuracy is combined with the quality of King's writing here and the pacing matching the era so perfectly, it all makes "11/22/63" one of King's most detailed novels, as well as one of his best works.
There were a couple of aspects that I wasn't quite so keen on. When the story left the historical perspective and King had to be a little more imaginative, it seemed to lose its way a little. It almost felt that in focusing so much on the 1960s, King lost touch with what made for a decent story in modern times. His attempts at providing an alternate reality didn't feel in keeping with the rest of the novel, giving it a slightly disjointed feel towards the end.
The other issue I had was that the discussions of the potential pitfalls on time travel, especially when dealing with potential paradoxes when changing things were not fully explored. There were mentions of this, but there could have been more on that area, as this also felt like an idea that was too good to be left out, but King didn't have the imagination or energy to flesh it out properly. To be fair, part of this idea was countered by the resistance of the past to accept change, which made for some interesting pieces of story.
Fortunately, these aspects, whilst taking the edge off my enjoyment slightly, only paper over the fact that the rest of the book is highly impressive. The style and content may be unusual by King's standards, but the quality of the writing is also higher than you may have come to expect from King. It's certainly not the best introduction to his work, differing as much as it does from his usual, but it's certainly the best researched novel he's ever done and it's amongst the best that this long term fan has read, if not quite making it to the top of the list. However, given some of the recent disasters King has produced, I'm more than happy to settle for that.
In recent years, I have tended to ask for King novels as presents, given the high cost of hardback novels and this is the first I've bought in some time and, having found it for half price in WHSmith, it's the first book I've paid £10.00 for that I've not immediately begrudged the high cost. It can now be purchased from £9.00 on Amazon or from as little as £3.60 plus postage from eBay. For these kinds of prices, this is a good enough read to be worth a purchase and I suspect it may surprise and entertain readers in equal measure, especially considering the reputation of the author. It certainly achieved both for me.
I received this book as a present from my partner who knows I have something of a Stephen King addiction. I remember reading last year about the books' impending release and finding the concept really intriguing, so when I unwrapped it on Christmas morning I couldn't wait to delve in!
The basic plot of the book is that our narrator finds himself able to travel in time back to 1958 and has the opportunity to prevent the Kennedy assassination five years later. Now, time-travel is a genre that is very difficult to get right, and I often find that Stephen King's novels tend to venture a little too far into the realm of the surreal and supernatural, especially in the closing chapters. All-in-all, I was worried that I might be disappointed with this book. However, despite 11.22.63 dealing with time travel, for me, it is one of King's more believable stories. Haven't we all wondered what might happen if we could go back in time and change a major event in history, or just in our own life?
I loved the attention to detail in this book. King put a huge amount of time and effort into doing his research, even going to Dallas and visiting the Book Depository Oswald took his shot from, and one of the many homes he lived in with his young wife and daughter. I actually felt I knew a little more about the Oswald family through our narrators' observations of them. In fact, in places, I found it difficult to separate the facts we know about the Kennedy assassination (if we can truly say we know any facts) with the fiction in this novel.
That's not to say King didn't have a little fun with the story. Our narrator supplements his income by placing bets on sporting events that, for him at least, have already happened. Again, I think many of us will have fantasised about doing similar. And of course, his mission is complicated by a pretty girl, Sadie.
I enjoyed 11.22.63 even more than I expected to. It was an interesting concept, executed beautifully, and we are never quite sure how it is going to end. It has also inspired me to educate myself about Oswald, his family, and the theories concerning the Kennedy assassination.
I've been a fan of the books of Stephen King for as a long as I can remember, when I made the transition from reading kids books to adult ones Stephen King was the first 'adult' author I read and I still remember the first book of his that I picked up, Salem's Lot. It's safe to say that I was hooked from the start and spent many hours making my way through his entire collection of works, 25 years later he remains my favourite author and is the only writer who's books I look forward to and who's website I am a member of. In many of King's books he writes a preface to the story he is about to present, he usually reveals some of the secrets of how he came up with the idea for the story and shares an insight into his psyche and how his imagination works. He usually draws inspiration from his own personal demons, events that have happened to him or those around him and affectionately refer to his followers as his "constant readers" and I'm proud to say that I am one. 11.22.63 is Stephen King's latest book, released in hardback on 8th of November this year and I received my copy on its release date having pre-ordered it from Amazon, I'm always slightly nervous when starting a new Stephen King book as I have great expectations from him and although he rarely lets me down there's always a niggling doubt at the back of my mind that this could be the book that disappoints me. Is 11.22.63 a disappointment? Let's see...
I would normally write a comprehensive but spoiler-free plot outline when reviewing a book as I like to give any consumer considering buying this book and reading this review an idea of what they could expect should they choose to part with their cash. 11.22.63 is a complicated tale so this plot outline might appear a bit simplistic, the book essentially deals with the idea of time travel and the paradoxes it creates and anyone who reads or watches science fiction or horror will know that time travel is perhaps one of the most difficult thing to get ones head around. We follow Jake in 11.22.63, an English teacher from Maine who stumbles across a time portal which takes him back to 1958 and allows him to meet up and fall in love with a beautiful young librarian from that time. The story follows Jake as he lives a dual life in the present day and the past and introduces us to the people he comes into contact with, one of them being an introverted character by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald, a complex and troubled person and ultimately somebody who would become infamous in only a few years time. Jake has the idea that he can stop one of the most significant assassinations in history, that of former American president John F Kennedy and the book follows Jake as he attempts to follow through with his plan whilst experiencing life and love in 1950's America.
I love to hate time travel stories as a personal rule, usually I can't quite get my head around the concept and I'm often left frustrated when the subject is tackled in books and films as the paradoxes they create are generally left undealt with. As an idea I think time travel is a fascinating concept, it's just a pity that may who have attempted to tackle the subject seem to do it half heartedly and ineptly so when I read the plot synopsis of 11.22.63 on Amazon and realised that Stephen King was going to take on a time travel story I had mixed feelings about this book but hoped that at last there would be an intelligent and believable story that could be created from the idea. I wasn't sure if King would be able to pull it off, even though I'm a huge fan of his horror books there have been times when he has deviated away from terror and has written psychological stories which touch on philosophical issues and whilst I'm not generally disappointed with anything he writes I did think that time travel might be a step too far. Fortunately my fears were soon put to one side the further I got into the book and deeper into the story I went as 11.22.63 is allowed to develop slowly and carefully whilst at the same time being a fully engrossing read which was hard to put down once I started. I'll state here that this book isn't a horror story, there are no monsters or demons and no descriptions of gore or violence, instead 11.22.63 is part love story, part sci-fi which captivated me from the first page. It's quite melancholic, wistful perhaps but exciting all the same and as you become attached to the characters you soon lose yourself into the world that King has once again managed to effortlessly create and you are taken on a journey with Jake as he discovers what life was like in 1950's America and the politics, opinions and beliefs of the people in that period of time.
A lot of detail goes into the story, Stephen King always manages to create a world for his characters to live in and this time it's a world that existed over 50 years ago. He draws from his own personal memories of the time and manages to intrinsically include details that other authors wouldn't attempt. You feel as if you are there with Jake as he falls in love with Sadie, the 1950's were a significant period in American history particularly for young adults as Elvis Presley and Rock and Roll were new and teenagers had role models they could relate to and aspire to be like and whilst I'm no history aficionado myself, I wasn't around in the 50's nor am I American I know enough about that period of time to recognise just how important it was to world history. Stephen Kings strengths as an author always comes down to the characters he creates, I've never read a story of his that didn't include a strong and identifiable central character and in this tale it's Jake Epping you get to know and love. I'm not going to mention a lot about Jake in this review, anyone who reads the book will form their own opinions on him but I would say that his heart is in the right place and I believed everything he did, he's one of those characters that you will love and end up rooting for and whilst this genre of book is not really my 'thing', I don't 'do' love stories as a rule but this more than just a love story and what happens to him as a character makes the story as readable as it is.
As for the problem that normally comes with time travel stories, namely paradoxes, I'm happy to say that 11.22.63 deals with these in an intelligent and believable manner, consequences are explained rather than being swept under the carpet and whilst they are still tricky to fully understand Stephen King has done the best job of dealing with the subject than any other author I have read. They're not easy to follow, paradoxes are by their nature are complicated issues and I won't even attempt to discuss them here as they mess with my head when I try to figure them out. There were times reading this book that I stopped and paused for a while to allow myself to digest the information I had read but on the whole I did follow them in this story and they did make sense in the end and didn't leave me scratching my head or become frustrated trying to rationalise them.
At 740 pages this is a big book to read, it took me a few weeks to get to the end of the story but this was down to other distractions that forced me to put the book to one side. I would say that it's a story to stick with, it's length might be off putting to some but if you are a 'constant reader' of King's books then you should be familiar with his style of writing and will know that the payoff is always worth the commitment you put into reading his stories. I loved the book, it isn't that far removed from his horror stories that it ends up feeling too 'different' as his well renowned traits of character development and compelling story telling are still there and once I got further into the story I found myself eagerly wanting more and allowing myself the time to sit down and read with no distractions was a welcome treat that I fully enjoyed.
The book is only available in either Hardback or Kindle version at the moment and is priced at £8.99 for the physical copy on amazon, It goes without saying that I recommend it, my five star rating here goes to show how much I loved it and for me it's up there with some of Stephen King's other best books, my own personal favourites being "IT" and "The Stand". It's not a book to read in one sitting, it's probably too long anyway and I enjoyed being able to sit back and think about the consequences that the story brings up, just be aware that once you get to know Jake and Sadie and realise what's about to happen then it might be a book that you won't want to put down and sleep may evade you for a couple of nights if you're a bedtime book reader.
Definitely recommended though as far as this 'constant reader' is concerned, thanks for reading my review.