Early in the summer, I kept seeing 11/22/63 by Stephen King popping up all over the
Internet place. While I like the occasional piece of historical fiction, it’s not my favorite, and my interests definitely don’t lie in the 1960s.
Luckily, I do know somebody very interested in modern American history… a certain handsome roommate of mine named Chris. He’d been struggling to find a book he could get into, so I recommended this, and he loved it! Like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so into a book. He could barely put it down. He kept urging me to read it, but I was skeptical. He assured me that you don’t need to know anything at all about Kennedy or the assassination to enjoy the book, so I decided to check it out.
I loved this book. I’m not going to delve into plot because it’s a thriller, and I don’t want to give anything away, but let me say, Chris was right (it pains me to type that). The book does an excellent job of explaining the days and circumstances surrounding JFK’s assassination in a way that is not at all reminiscent of US History II.
I immediately fell in love with the main character Jake Epping (what a good name!) and his style. The book is written from his perspective, and you can almost hear his voice in your head as you read.
The story centers on time travel (you find this out almost immediately; I’m not ruining anything) which was another aspect that had me nervous. While I mostly enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife, I found it incredibly dense and confusing to an extent that took away from the story. I have a hard time just accepting things and going with them. I like to know how it all works, so time travel stories that with conflicting rules regarding the process drive me nuts. King describes his premise for time travel so succinctly that it covers barely a page. He doesn’t answer ever question but rather deftly deflects some of the most common time travel quandaries. As an example, Jake asks his time travel guide “What would happen if I went back in time and killed my grandfather?” His guide smartly responds with something to the extent of, “Why would you do that??” Brilliant.
Another thing that normally bothers me regarding any books or movies that require you to suspend reality is the amount of time devoted to the main character accepting that something outside of the ordinary is occurring. Like, it always seems as if the person has all the evidence in front of them yet still insists that “time travel just doesn’t exist!” Ugh. We know you’re gonna do it, so let’s just speed up those moments of incredulity. King handles this masterfully too by creating a character who’s world view has already been rocked and so seems ready to accept even the oddest of turns.
King’s treatment of America’s past felt really well rounded. There is no idolization for an era that never really existed in the first place, nor does King seem overly apologetic for the mistakes (racist, narrow minded mistakes) of his predecessors. His character seems always to remember that he is viewing the past from a unique perspective.
The rest of the characters in the book are just as well rounded and likable (except for the ones you’re not supposed to like, of course), and the book doesn’t feel like a story about time travel or a piece of historical fiction. It’s just a good story. A good story that will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.
Much to my surprise, I found myself unable to put this book down either. I broke my rule of never walking and reading (I’m absent minded enough as it is) and narrowly avoided a run in with a city bus as well as a close encounter with a tree just to keep reading.
I’ve never read anything else by Stephen King (though I’m thinking I should start), but the book has the same mysterious feel as movies adapted from his novels. You aren’t terrified when reading, but you do keep checking over your shoulder because of the pervasively creepy feeling.
I kept wagering guesses throughout the course of 11/22/63 as to what the final ending would be, but I realize now that I was way off the mark until about three quarters of the way through. Even then, I was only about sixty percent right. After finishing the book, I was glad I had Chris to discuss with (so maybe make this a book club selection, but beware it’s loooong) as the conclusion stuck with me for the next 72 hours.
I’ve been recommending this book to anyone in need of a good read, so I’ll just go ahead and recommend it to you to. Read this book; you won’t regret it.