“11/22/63” by Stephen King


One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more; more or less chronicle my literary journeys here on my blog.  Thus far I have been reading more regularly, which has delighted me.  I read vivaciously as it is but last year I felt that my reading habits went out the window during times of stress, which is slightly ironic considering that reading is a great form of escapism and generally relaxes me.

I just recently wrapped Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” which from the get go had me enthralled.  Essentially the plot is as follows:

Jake Epping lives in present day Maine (A Stephen King book set in Maine—what!?) and is basically trying to find his way in life.  He describes his passion for writing and his even deeper passion for teaching, he tells the audience of his alcoholic ex-wife, and of his closest friend, at the time, Al the proprietor of “Al’s Diner” across the way from the school that he works at.

Stephen King does an excellent job building up the character and fleshing out all of the little nuances that are then sprinkled throughout the book leading up to the emotional finish. King does wonderful work with character development.  You fall in love, or deeply hate, the characters he creates, because they are all so real and incredibly vivid.   Epping is character that is relatable and one that you quickly fall in love with.

After Epping’s introduction the plot device is introduced by a dying, Al: a time tunnel leading from Al’s pantry in his diner to an old mill (in the same location as the diner) in September of 1958.  Trippy, right?  The Science-Fiction/Dark Fantasy elements introduced in “11/22/63” is minute.  It is a plot device—an excuse to transport Epping to 1958, so that a problem can be presented and that he can meet people created to fit that era.  Personally, I thought it was wonderfully done.  The time travel bit did not seem haphazardly thrown in it seemed like a—well, plot device.

There are some time travel rules and hiccups that Al details to Jake upon sharing the knowledge of the time tunnel to him.  One of the hitches is that the time tunnel only leads to September of 1958, so in order to change something, it has to be after 1958 and odds are some waiting will be occurring to pass the time to whatever event that needs to be changed (perhaps years).  Also, once you return to the present only two minutes has elapsed since you left.  So, if you stay in the past for five-years, you age five-years, but when you return it has only been two minutes in present-time.  And, then the final kicker is as follows: every time you use the time tunnel it resets everything you changed, so once you alter the past you have to either A.) stay there forever, or B.) Come back through the time tunnel, but never use it again.

The first time Epping makes the journey to 1958 he is rightly flabbergasted. He ends up making small talk with the locals before quickly returning to Al’s Diner in the present.  He was merely getting a feel for it—allowing his mind to wrap around the absurdity of time travel.  The second time he goes back he has a specific task at hand.  He plans to rescue a family that he knows is going to be slaughtered by their patriarch on Halloween of 1958 in the nearby town of—wait for it—Derry.  This bit is exceptionally written and I loved being transported back to Derry.  It was like meeting an old friend again, and made me want to dust off my copy of “It” and immediately begin perusing its comfortable pages.  As an aside, I actually brushed by the references in full force.  I was talking with my Mom about “11/22/63,” who reads more vivaciously than me and is a huge Stephen King fan, and just through our conversation she realized the connection.  As soon as we started discussing it, it all came flooding back, but I have to give her props for showing me the obvious; I can’t believe I missed it!

Epping succeeds in his first mission effectively altering the present, which ultimately spurs him to follow Al’s dying wish: save JFK from assassination.   Al firmly believes that by saving JFK the positive ramifications will be so great that the world will have to be a better place for it.  Epping hesitates at first, but finally agrees embarking on a five-year journey from 1958 to 1963 in order to save John F. Kennedy.

The bulk of the book takes places during this timeframe.  Epping returns to 1958, wraps up some loose ends by saving the family in Derry once more, and then slowly travels throughout the country making his way to Dallas, Texas.  He arrives early (by several years) and decides that Dallas reminds him too much of Derry and that he would rather stay close by, but nevertheless elsewhere.  He sets up camp in Jodie, Texas where he meets the love of his life and the closest friends he’ll ever have.

This part of the novel I enjoyed greatly.  A wonderful array of characters is presented and just as fondly as I grew attached to Jake I grew accustomed to his friends as well as his love interest, Sadie.  Jake experiences numerous difficulties, that would break most people’s spirit, along the way, but he prevails time and time again.  Even though Jake proved that the past could be changed he describes it as being difficult and “obdurate.”  The past doesn’t want to change, and the bigger the change and the closer Jake gets the event in question, the past throws everything it has at him to prevent it from happening.

I will not spoil the ending, because it is a good read that should be enjoyed page for page and not lightly glossed over by some blogger trying his hand at a review.

Overall, I was impressed though.  The book, like aforementioned, grabbed me from the get go.  It is wonderfully written.  The prose is tight, the characters are believable as well as loveable, and the journey to the ending is superb.  At its heart this tale is not one of Science-Fiction, or even about rescuing JFK, but like all great novels one of love.  It is truly a love story between Jake and Sadie.  It doesn’t begin that way and even their first moments together don’t hint at romance.  But, as the story transversed, to the date in question, Sadie and Jake’s relationship blossoms and inevitably it drew me into the plot further.

The ending I found lackluster.  It seemed almost rushed.  I spent several hundred pages growing attached and having the plot slowly, but effectively divulged to me, and then the ending wraps up in a scant hundred pages or so.  All of the questions built up over the course of the novel are all succinctly and neatly explained, whether mystical or not, within a short period making it feel slightly hurried.  There are some great ties to King’s “Dark Tower” series, but like Sonia Medeiros on her blog put it, “if the story begs for dark otherworldliness, why fight it?”.  Instead of embracing the time tunnel and wonkiness of reality and parallel universes he wrestles with it a bit and it looses coherency.

Like I stated, “Overall, I was impressed,” but like most Stephen King books I’ve read my last reaction is as follows:

“Damn it Stephen King!  You’re so brilliant, but I hate you!”

Yep, there it is—incredibly eloquent and profound.  He is a fantastic author, but his endings always kill me.  Oh, well King is a damn fine author—better than I’ll ever be.  Regardless of the ending–pick it up.  It is a page turner and one that you’ll enjoy from start to finish.

Well I am off to my next page-turner—any suggestions?  I’m thinking of diving into either Matthew Reilly’s “Area 7,” Jeffrey Deaver’s “Carte Blanche,” or Jeremy Robinson’s “Pulse.”  Who knows?

3 thoughts on ““11/22/63” by Stephen King

  1. I would agree that the ending felt rushed to me–but that could be because I burned through the last 100 pages so quickly that it would be impossible for it not to feel rushed!

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