• 11/22/63 by Stephen King
• Ebook: 960 pages
• Publisher: Scribner Ebooks, 2011
• ASIN: B004Q7CIFI
• Genre: Science Fiction; Thriller; Historical Fiction; Horror
• Recommended For: Anyone, but particularly old school fans of Stephen King.
Quick Review: Overall, I definitely recommend this novel, but with a stipulation. If I had read little to no King before, I think I would enjoy 11/22/63. Yet, to really enjoy this novel (that is, if you enjoy contextual references), I think it would be beneficial to have read most of King’s novels (particularly IT and probably the Dark Tower series).
How I Got Here: Amy from Lucy’s Football and Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick simply raved about this book on Twitter a few weeks ago. After reading their gushing comments on Twitter, I pushed 11/22/63 to the top of my TBR list and immediately downloaded it to my Kindle app!
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination-a thousand page tour de force.
Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment-a real life moment-when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history.
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students-a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane-and insanely possible-mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life-a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best.
My Analysis and Critique:
I enjoyed this novel a lot. It worked on many levels for me–as a trip down memory lane (horror, dependent upon its connection to the horror in IT), an exploration of the complexities of time travel (science fiction), as a private investigation story (thriller), and as a dabbling in history (historical fiction). Was it a great Stephen King novel? On these levels, yes. Did King give me that old rush that that only Stephen King has ever given me? Briefly, but only because it involved the setting and characters of my favorite King novel (see my exhilaration at these chapters in 11/22/63 here).
Again, King is working here on many levels. He is known as the Master of Horror, but in 11/22/63, King reminds readers that he is also pretty masterful at science fiction. King has already proven this in the past with his Bachman books (especially), and here he shows his Sci-Fi chops with time travel. King explores the effects (many negative) of altering history. As he repeats throughout the novel, the past is obdurate, and will fight in a rather nasty fashion when any attempts are made to change it. After seeing the awful obstacles thrown in Jake Epping’s way when he first tries to change the future, the reader is sickly curious to see what other terrible things will happen when he tries to change a major event in history.
That major event is, of course, Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The history involved in this novel fascinated me. I am not very well-versed in the history of this era, so I cannot authoritatively say how accurate King’s depiction of Oswald and the events leading to the JFK assassination are (although, my husband is a pretty good history know-it-all, and as I read, he quizzed me on significant events in Oswald’s life, all of which I knew now from this book. I passed the quiz!), but the wonderful thing about historical fiction is that it is a gateway to fact. Now, having read this novel, I want to know more about the historical events of this period in time. I am sincerely grateful to King for tricking me into learning my history!
Unlike other reviewers, I also enjoyed the pacing. It often switched from fast-paced (trailing the doings of Oswald and other bad guys) to slow (small town life in the early ’60s). I didn’t mind the slow parts (I don’t really even think of them as slow, but as classic King character-building)–they served as a slice of life in an era I know too little about. I enjoyed Jake’s new life in the ’60s.
I’m also one of the King readers who LOVES all of the contextual references in his books. Not everyone enjoys how King uses characters and plot elements across novels. 11/22/63 makes reference to his other novels in a number of ways (I discuss this in my second post on 11/22/63), and these references were some of my favorite parts.
Overall, I definitely recommend this novel, but with a stipulation. If I had read little to no King before, I think I would enjoy 11/22/63. Yet, to really enjoy this novel (that is, if you enjoy contextual references), I think it would be beneficial to have read most of King’s novels (particularly IT and probably the Dark Tower series).
If you’re a Constant Reader of King, and have read 11/22/63, read my additional analysis of 11/22/63, where I explore the connection between 11/22/63 and King’s other works.