Gary Schroeder's Reviews > 11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King
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Feb 21, 12

Read from December 25, 2011 to February 12, 2012

It's something that occupies every American's mind at one time or another, if only for a few minutes: what would have happened had John Kennedy not been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963? Could America's involvement in Vietnam have been avoided (for just one example)? It's a great premise for a novel and King handles it well. It's hard to talk about this book in detail without giving away crucial spoilers, but I'll do my best here.

Turns out that there's a little Hole In Time sitting in the storage room of a diner in present day New England that's permanently wired to 1958. The diner's owner discovered it some time ago and after exploring the general properties of the Hole and what he can do with it, he broadens his horizons and starts working on altering the course of history in a truly significant way. Because of failing health, he enlists the aid of a much younger 30-something to finish the job of stopping Oswald, a task that he himself in his advanced age became to ill to complete. Our hero, Jake discovers that time is not as flexible as one might imagine and that it seems to resist change actively. Small deviations in the established timeline are easy, but altering people's lives is much harder. The more important the historical personnage, the harder and more dangerous it is to alter events.

Jake's up against two things: a force in time that fights back when changed as well as having to find a way to get by for five years while waiting for 1963 to arrive. Not as easy as it sounds. One is bound to make personal connections and alterations over such a long span of time. Jake falls in love with a woman who forces him to make choices between his mission to stop Oswald and his devotion to her. This could have been very pat and predicable but I thought King did a great job of making the relationship feel real and complex.

Tension is maintained well throughout the novel as it's never clear as to whether it's even possible to alter history in such a significant way. Will jake stop Oswald? CAN he stop Oswald? What will happen if he's successful? It's a long 800+ page journey to find out, but it didn't feel like an effort. The pacing is competent enough to sustain a story of this length. As for what happens when one tries to stop the assassination of a president, let's just say that nothing's predictable and King keeps you guessing the whole way. The suspense lasts right up to the last 50 pages of the book and it manages to contain surprises.

I think this book owes a great debt to Jack Finney, author of "Time and Again," a classic time travel novel that has much in common with 11/22/63. Clearly King was inspired by Finney as he appears in the acknowledgements at the back of the book.
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