11/22/63 by Stephen King

Guest Post by Renee from Rambleicious.

In 11/22/63, King sends Jake Epping, a high school teacher, on an extraordinary journey through the past to stop the assassination of JFK.

JFK’s assassination is still a big topic of discussion, rife with conspiracy theories, doubts, and a strange lack of solid facts. Given that JFK was also a popular president (young, handsome, appealing to both young and older voters etc.) it’s unlikely that discussion will stop. Add to that already mysterious and intriguing subject the idea of time travel, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a good story.

There are any number of questions and theories on what might happen if you could go back in time, and there are probably even more about how America – and, indeed, the world – might have turned out if Lee Harvey Oswald had missed his mark that day. King handles both questions in a way that will have you turning out the lights and lying wide awake in the wee hours of the morning.

Jake Epping begins his journey in the pantry of a diner where there is a “rabbit hole” that leads from 2011, to a warm September day in 1958. Once Al, the diner’s owner, convinces Jake that the rabbit hole is real, and that America’s salvation lies in saving JFK from his date with Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet, Jake goes into the past armed with a few facts of the future (including a list of all the major sporting event outcomes – a man has to eat after all) and tries to avert one of the most talked-about presidential assassinations.

King’s own theory about time-travel and changing events is interesting – in 11/22/63, no matter how long you stay in the past (days, months, years…), only two minutes will have gone by when you return to the present. This makes time travel tricky on the other side of the rabbit hole: how do you explain aging a few years over the course of two minutes? And, when you’ve returned, if the world and the people you know in it, are irrevocably changed because of what you did – do you fix it (there’s a reset function in this version of time travel so you can undo your mistakes) or do you leave it alone and live with it?

In an effort to not spoil the ending, I won’t comment on the other theories and ideas regarding time travel and changing past events – it’s enough to say that you’ll enjoy reading it and you’ll be thinking about it long after you’re done.

The book did, for me at least, have one weak spot in the beginning when Jake passes through the fictional town of Derry, Maine and happens upon two characters from King’s earlier novel, It. I still re-read It from time to time, because it’s a damn fine story, but I felt that the interlude there, with those characters, was more about the author than Jake Epping’s journey. For me, it didn’t fit.

I also came to feel a little sorry for King’s version of Lee Harvey Oswald – what a mixed-up, sorry excuse of a man – and his family. I’m not sure how much liberty King took in the writing of Oswald’s thoughts and the things he said, but it was hard to not feel something like pity for him. Oswald is despicable (he’s a terrible father and an even worse husband) but he’s also pathetic (he’s got a slightly crazy, very over-bearing mother, no self-confidence at all, and he’s full of fear and self-loathing).

Jake, of course, isn’t simply waiting around twiddling his thumbs between 1958 and 1963 either; he’s planning, he’s gathering information, he’s confirming the things that Al knew about Oswald (or at least verifying the assumptions about him made after his death), and living as a regular citizen among good and decent people that he comes to care about. He has to deal with being a stranger out of time, and the guilt of deceiving the people he must live among. He handles it with a fair bit of grace all things considered, and he becomes part of the community in ways that impact a lot of lives in a time that is not his own.

If you’re looking for a good, long story, a well-written, believable, and even slightly scary story, to wile away the cold winter nights – this is the story you want to pick up (and possibly in Kindle format, as the hardcover is very large and rather heavy).

Hardcover: 849 pages
Publisher: Scribner; First Edition/First Printing edition (November 8, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1451627289
ISBN-13: 978-1451627282