Fooling with Fate
The front cover of King’s riveting novel is a snapshot of a local newspaper’s headline blaring the assassination of President Kennedy. The back cover of the book displays a similar newspaper front page except this time it heralds the miracle that the President narrowly escaped assassination. It is within those antithetical goal posts that King frames his story. King & his publisher are waving these possible outcomes like a red flag in front of the reading public, creating a tantalizing potential, appealing both to the fatalists who don’t believe in even the possibility of suggesting an alteration to history’s more repugnant incidents & to the ever sanguine faithful who ask, in an almost pleading voice, but what if … what if we could reach back, grab hold of a time continuum knob & erase or at least modify, that most sad, ugly chapter of our nation’s past. I think that is a pretty clever way of setting the stage even before you turn to the first page. You want to know something – it sucked me right in.
King is the master of that technique. He expertly knows how to create an alluring premise that suggests tasty twists, surprises designed to elicit gasps of horror and especially considering the topic matter, grand revelations of an alternative future never realized. Taking advantage of history’s true characters & then fleshing them out into fully three-dimensional beings (whether based on fact or not I do not know; nonetheless, tellingly real & believable to the reader) he texturizes the plot, gently nuancing it all so that the actual historical occurrences become secondary to King’s own narrative objectives. In other words, his treatment of the events & his imagined potential outcomes ends up mattering much more than the historical events themselves.
Now, I’m not one of those folks who has read a ton of King; actually, this is the first novel of his I’ve read in years (Under the Dome is on my shelf). However, I think I’m in the same boat as most of the public familiar with King’s oeuvre of the macabre & grisly; I would hazard a guess that few of us expect him to concoct betwixt & between a story of time travel & saving lives & styming Lee Harvey Oswald from murdering JFK a love story. Yes, in this sweeping, exuberant novel that is what King admirably delivers - a love story. It trumps all else.
If I could share the romance plot points without taking away from his story I would, but to share any of it would be to lessen the impact. Suffice to say, he does a masterful job of brilliantly weaving the strands of the romantic interlude of his time traveling, event shaping hero with the novel’s salient plot points. It all becomes inextricably & often times weirdly wrapped together; much like an intricately tied knot, weathered by the seasons, nearly impossible to untangle & even then, with little hope of recreating the knot as originally tied.
If nothing else, King has long been recognized for keenly understanding the craft of writing. His book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft has received plaudits from critics & readers alike. Written in 2000 it is the go to book for the fundamentals on how to write a novel. I only mention this because liberally sprinkled throughout 11/22/63 is the word obdurate. The Free Dictionary defines obdurate as: “Not giving in to persuasion; intractable.” The same dictionary defines intractable as: “Difficult to mold or manipulate.” This word appears at critical points in the novel & is always used in the same context. The repeated use of this word coming from an author like King is not accidental. In fact, it is a key to understanding what this enlightening adventure is all about. In that vein then, I encourage all of you to resist your obdurate impulses & hasten to wherever you buy your novels & plunk down the bucks for what is quite likely, the best of Stephen King.