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11.22.63 - Stephen King
Member Name: QueenElf
11.22.63 - Stephen King
Advantages: Epic Story, Strong subject. Superb characters.
Disadvantages: It's too short!
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. ŠLfuller2012.
Summary: Stephen King at his best.