11/22/63

11/22/63 Book Cover 11/22/63
Stephen King
Historical Fiction
Scribner
November 8, 2011
Paperback
849

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

 

11/22/63 is one of Stephen King’s non-horror books, demonstrating his mastery of many genres. Like most of his novels, 11/22/63 is a long book. There are also references to some of King’s previous works, further building the shared universe where his stories take place. The premise of the book is simple: a time traveler attempts to stop JFK’s assassination. In and of itself, that summary sounds like it could be a simple short story. But there are rules to the time travel, namely that protagonist Jake Epping can only go back to a certain date, 5 years before the assassination happens. If he wants to save JFK, he will have to wait out that time. And a lot can happen to a man in 5 years.

Throughout 11/22/63, Jake’s mission to save JFK is more of a motivational device than anything else. At first, he figures he can just wait out the 5 years for the most part. But sitting and just waiting is hard for even a little while, let alone 5 years. A man has to do something in that time to keep himself busy. He has to live life. And life has a way of moving things and changing people. In some ways good and in others bad.

Jake spends his time in the past keeping an eye on Lee Harvey Oswald. But as he lives a new life in the late 50s/early 60s, he begins to meet new people. He builds relationships with the people around him, making friends and enemies alike. There is pain and there is joy, forcing Jake to make hard decisions on whether he should focus on himself or his mission. Ultimately, 11/22/63 becomes a story as much about Jake’s growth as a person as his history-changing mission.

This type of story is hard to review because of its length. It may be a long story, but the page count is not wasted. The book is detailed and a bit of a slow burn, but not overly so. By the end, it comfortably covers the roughly 5-year period of Jake’s mission. There are some bits at the beginning of the book taking place in the town of Derry, which will only fully make sense if you have read IT. While a number of King’s other books end awkwardly, that is not an issue in 11/22/63. By the last page, the story feels complete, and it’s a hell of a ride through America’s heartland and history the whole way there.

March 10, 2019

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