11/22/63: A Novel
Author: Stephen King
Published November 8th 2011 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2011)
Setting: Maine (United States), Jodie, Texas (United States)
Literary Awards: WINNER: 2012 THRILLER AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW’S TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2011 | WINNER: 2011 LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR BEST MYSTERY/THRILLER | WINNER: 2012 INTERNATIONAL THRILLER WRITERS AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL | World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012) | Goodreads Choice for Best Science Fiction (2011) | Kono Mystery ga Sugoi for Best Translated Mystery Novel of the Year in Japan (2014)
You’d think the whole world would conspire (yep, Paulo Coehlo quote there) to help someone who is in a mission to stop the JFK assassination. But nooo… This is Stephen King we are talking about. And a typical Stephen King novel 11/22/63 is not.
If you’re familiar with “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” (I love that movie), the movie starts in a temple in Peru where Indy is in a quest to retrieve an idol. The temple of course has booby traps. It starts with those spiders, then there are poisonous darts and that humongous ball crusher that Indy eventually escapes from.
You breathe a sigh of relief because before that concrete slab goes all the way down to trap him, he rolls (or slides, whatever) on the floor and is still able to grab that hat. Throughout the movie there are snakes, fistfights and more fistfights. It’s like that with 11/22/63. There are ‘booby traps’, ‘snakes’, evil guys to fend off, and you can’t help but love the good guy – you want the guy to have a happy ending. The whole novel keeps you on the edge of your seat. It makes you wish that the protagonist escapes these booby traps, complete his mission, and not lose his hat.
Jake Epping, our protagonist, is an English teacher who travels back in time to change the fate of many a people, but whose end goal is to prevent the assassination of JFK. Al Templeton, who owns a local diner that Jake frequently visits, convinces him to prevent this incident by traveling back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. If Marty (of Back to the Future) had a car, Jake had Al’s pantry. Cool, eh?
Changing the past isn’t going to be easy as Jake later finds out. The past is obdurate and some sort of ‘force’ (the force is strong in this one) is preventing him to accomplish his mission. It’s going to do everything to stop Jake in his tracks. Jake and Al are also concerned with the “butterfly effect” – whatever you change in the past will eventually result in a change in the future. Even if Al and Jake have devised a plan before Jake goes down the “rabbit-hole”, he wasn’t really prepared for what he would encounter. Then again, no amount of training or preparation might have been enough when it comes to time-travel. To complicate matters more, Jake falls in love (Why, Jake? Why?). As Stephen King wrote, “The sh*t kept getting deeper“.
Jake, who was a bit adamant in the beginning, starts to like the past and even debates with himself whether he should go back to the present. I mean, it was a world where dancing actually meant having fun, sharing a great moment with a partner (no twerking back then) – a world where food tastes really good, and where most people were likeable and helpful. I found Jake Epping’s character to be good-hearted and sincere. He’s smart and a quick thinker. You’re rooting for him because you know that he is genuine and determined. And boy, does he dance!
I wouldn’t consider myself a history buff but I found out that this didn’t matter. In true Stephen King fashion, 1958, and the years after that, were described with great detail – the music, the food (and how tasty it was at the time compared to what we ingest now), the dances, the politics – the good, the bad and the ugly, as they say. It is a world I am not familiar with but it was described so vividly that I enjoyed conjuring up all those details in my mind, just imagining how it would feel like to be there. The book also mentioned a lot of songs from the 50’s and 60’s which I enjoyed listening to after searching for them in YouTube. I wrote about those in previous blog posts (inks at the bottom of this post).
Some people who reviewed this book said that it ‘dragged’. I did not find it like that. I mean, instead of repeating what he already wrote, Stephen King even wrote ‘blah, blah, blah’ in the book. The world where Jack lived in the past was all so new and fascinating to me, I devoured every detail and didn’t find any superfluous words. I didn’t mind slowing down to write every element that interested me in my notebook.
The ultimate question then is: Can Jake stop the assassination? If so, will it affect the present? What would be the consequences if he succeeds or if he fails? Will he stay in the past? What happens when he returns to the year 2011? Will he eat that chocolate pie because if he won’t, I’d gladly eat it.
This book is 849 pages of suspense, thrills and induces page-turning paroxysms. Yes, it is a tome but it is worth every page and every second of your time. This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was really hard to put down. It made me read it to the end with as much fascination as fear. It makes you want to know what will happen in the end. It’s a book that tells you that life indeed ‘turns on a dime’ and that things do happen for a reason whether we like it or not. The love story was a nice touch even if this was something I never encountered with any Stephen King books I read before. It didn’t make me cringe so that’s a good point. His humor showed too (humor is always good in my books). Stories that involve time-traveling don’t really interest me but 11/22/63 might have changed that. Stephen King is a great story teller and he didn’t disappoint with 11/22/63.
- In the afterword, Stephen King mentioned that his son, Joe Hill, suggested a better ending. I wonder what the original ending is.
- “Love is a uniquely portable magic.” — Well-said, Mr. King!
- “If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples.” – A Japanese proverb mentioned in the book
- There are recipes of some of the food mentioned in the book. I don’t know if I can, so if anyone out there decides to cook those, please let me gawk at them ;)
- This is not a typical Stephen King novel. It’s more of suspense rather than the typical horror stories Stephen King is known for. SO if you’ve been wary of his previous horror novels, you might want to read this.