Jenn's Reviews > 11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King
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's review
Dec 10, 11

bookshelves: e-book, novel, fiction, read-2011
Read from December 04 to 09, 2011

Though I'm not a regular Stephen King reader, I picked this up on a whim after seeing it on the New York Times notable list for 2011. I'm so, so glad I did. The story follows a high school English teacher from Maine who, through very strange circumstances, is given the chance to travel back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination.

But wait: There's more. Of course. The teacher, Jake Epping, must start his journey five years before Kennedy's November 22, 1963 assassination, and he must live in the past, undetected and preparing, from 1958 on. That's enough of a premise to be getting on with, of course, but King is a master of the strange circumstance and, here, at least, of what a wants-to-do-right guy like Jake Epping would do: he'd find a way to stop some minor crimes along the way.

The story is awash in what should be Major Moral Dilemmas that actually resolve themselves quickly. Bad Things are Stopped; Bad Men, too. For eighty percent of the book, what's good and bad are black and white; only the faintest, most delicate hint of the universe wanting to balance its books makes a reader uneasy about the choices our hero makes.

There's suspense in every chapter, and not all of it is even Kennedy related. Once Jake makes himself comfortable in the past, there's more at stake than simply the president's assassination. There are the friends he makes; there is also the strangely compelling and ultimately vile character that King has created out of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man Jake Epping must follow and get to know.

One senses, at times, that the main character is on a quest that the author would like to match: they both want to know why. Neither gets the answer, not completely, but the picture we're left with, the motives that are drawn in here, are believable.

Stephen King writes in the afterword that he started this book in 1972 but put it down, feeling he didn't have the time to write it and that it wouldn't be the best topic to undertake within a decade of the Kennedy Assassination. Thank goodness. Had this book come out then, it would miss one of its greatest strengths: its ability to compare now to then. This wouldn't be half as fun, or half as moving, if the main character didn't understand how much different the time is that he's moved back to. No cell phones? No Wikipedia? No 9-1-1? It makes the tension thicker; it also allows the author (and the reader) to stare at the not-so-long-ago with a "Huh, so that's how we used to do it!" wonder that makes the book a delight even when its events are horrific.

This book manages to make the past look horrible and sweet and then horrible again; it manages to make a grand, sweeping political statement about how bad things are now versus how bad they have been; it manages to put ordinary people into absolutely unbelievable circumstances; and it does it all while maintaining the main character as a pretty whole, round, complicated guy. Had he not been so believable, the ending might have been easier to read. As it was, I felt so confident of what he was going to do that the end -- even after 600+ pages -- was a real surprise to me, and I was glad.
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Reading Progress

12/04/2011 "This is gripping, and I can't figure out if it's because I'm an English teacher or because I love diners. Maybe both? Hallelujah for the combination." 2 comments
8.0% "Well, now I'm just thirsty for 1950s rootbeer all the time."
15.0% "This is pretty true for time traveling detectives, I think: "I had been hobbled, perhaps even crippled, by a pervasive internet society I had come to depend on and take for granted." Interesting to read on an eBook, though."
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Call me and tell me how it ended. I gave up 1/2 way through, which is very unusual for me. I haven't read King's work for many many years and now I remember why I stopped.

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