My review of 11/22/63
My review of 11/22/63
With 11/22/63, Stephen King takes us into one of his most ambitious novels. 11/22/63 is a fiction based on a historical event that marked America (and the world).
Addressing the theme of time travel in an original way (each new stay in the past is a reset of what has been changed the previous time), the novel deals head-on with the theory of the butterfly effect in a reality-fiction taking the appearance of a police investigation linked to a love story of the scale of Lisey story.
The story is thus rooted in 2011 present-day life, in which Jake Epping, a high-school teacher in his thirties, living in Lisbon Falls (Maine), discovers through a neighbor the « rabbit-hole »(an obvious reference to Alice) that allows to « go down » into the America of 1958… and to come back, 2 minutes later, into the world of 2011, and this, regardless of the amount of time spent in 1958.
Jake’s neighbor, Al, suggests him the idea of stepping back in time in order to save Kennedy by killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the murderer who changed America and generated millions deaths in Vietnam… since Al is convinced at 95% that it was the act of one person alone.
Al would take care of it himself if he was not suffering from terminal cancer.
Jake Epping will first perform several « test-trips » in order to understand how the « rabbit-hole » operates and check that each passage through the »crack in time » is indeed a reset of previously made changes. Moreover, in his first stays, he will enjoy meals and beers that taste much better than they do today, in spite of the pollution of cigarettes that are extremely popular and common.
During the « ultimate » trip whose purpose is to verify that the Kennedy’s assassination was indeed the work of Oswald alone, Jake will have to live 5 years in the past. During his stay he’ll become a part-time teacher, pass as a writer, and befriend and fall in love with Sadie Dunhill, a librarian. He will bankroll his stay with his teaching job and the money that Al was able to carry back from his own travels (strangely, the money one carries while going through the rabbit-hole remains unchanged), and the one that he makes by betting on sports scores using information garnered by Al in his notebooks.
Jake will thus engage in investigations to learn more about Oswald and check that he deserves to be killed to prevent the president’s assassination.
Will Jake succeed in saving the president? Do things done in the past have consequences in the future?
Stephen King has performed a tremendous feat in portraying the America of the late 50s-early 60s, in rendering local accents (Maine and Texas)… and the lyrical and highly musical atmosphere of the time (the swinging 50s).
Stephen King was born in 1947 and was a teenager in this particular era, but this didn’t deter him to conduct extensive research to make this documentary reconstruction of the items mentioned above, as well as the political climate of the Cold War, the Cuban missiles Crisis, or the « alibi » of several real characters and the various dwelling places of Oswald. Stephen King expresses his gratitude to his crew of informants who helped him write this voluminous book, also mentionning a list of books to be read on the subject, claiming to having read a pile of them as tall as himself.
Much more than a mere fiction, this book by Stephen King skillfully blends fact and fiction, police investigations, historical reconstruction and love story… all of which confirming that Stephen King, the great narrator of ambitious novels such as IT, THE STAND, THE DARK TOWER, to name but a few of these timeless novels, is well and truly back, in this grand but also intimate novel.
Let us recall, in the words of Stephen King himself in his afterword, that he tried to write this novel back in the 70s, but soon dropped it because the trauma of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death was still too recent, and extensive documentation on the assassination was missing. Thus, a little less than 40 years later – and almost 50 years since JFK died – he has taken up the idea and carried it to its full completion.
Stephen King, a writer of horror novels? Not merely.
While Stephen King wrote a lot of horror stories, and continues to do so occasionally*, he’s, however, primarily a writer of fantasy. This novel confirms Stephen King’s status as a great storyteller, reaffirms his credentials and why, over the last ten years, he has repeatedly won literary awards for his entire career.
11/22/63 testifies to his talent as a prominent storyteller.
What about you : if you could go back in time, what would you do? What would you change?
* Recently: Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of short stories to be published in France in 2012, and more recently the short story The little green god of Agony published in the anthology A book of horrors.