I just finished 11/22/63, Stephen King’s take on time travel and the Kennedy Assassination. I don’t want to say too much about plot because the book is so plot driven. But I am going to do my best to discuss the book because it was that good.
Let me preface this by saying that I have read many books about the Kennedy Assassination. I believe that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and I do not think that Oswald acted alone. Almost nothing would convince me otherwise. In the afterward to the book, King discusses conspiracy theories and says that based upon reading “Case Closed” and “Oswald’s Tale” (the latter being a work of fiction), he’s convinced Oswald acted alone. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion and I realize that he would have to believe that way for his book to work. Overall, I’m fine with that because for the purposes of his book, it does work.
The main character is Jake Epping. He’s a high school English teacher in Maine in 2011. He has an ex-wife who’s a recovering alcoholic. It’s the last day of school before summer break and he goes to a diner he lies to eat. The owner, Al, tells him he’s closing it down. He says that he needs to talk to Jake about something important and to meet him at the diner after it’s closed. Jake meets Al and then the story begins.
Al tells Jake that he’s found a “rabbit hole”. He goes back to 1958 through steps in the pantry at the diner. All tells Jake that he has cancer and isn’t going to live long – from smoking his whole life, is what he says. He tells Jake that he ha a project for him. He wants Jake to go down the rabbit hole to stop the Kennedy Assassination. Jake at first says no. Al tells him that there are certain watershed moments in history, but if you look at each one, nothing affected this country more negatively than the Kennedy Assassination. Al believes that had JFK not been killed, MLK Jr. wouldn’t have been killed and RFK wouldn’t have been killed; Vietnam wouldn’t have happened and this country would be completely different.
Meanwhile, Jake has a former student from his Adult GED English class whose family was killed by his dad when he was a kid and who was seriously injured. Jake decides his first act of heroism will be to change Harry’s life. So Jake goes down the rabbit hole…….
All I will say about the remainder of the plot is that Stephen King is a genius. Jake goes down the rabbit hole, where he always comes out in September, 1958. He goes two or three times before he tries to stop the assassination. There is a lot of discussion about the butterfly effect – the theory that a butterfly flaps its wings in California and there’s an earthquake in Russia. Cause and effect is a lot at play in this story. So is the theory that history is, as Jake likes to say “obdurate”. Unwilling to change.
King’s genius lies in several places. One, he’s a marvelous writer. He’s a master of plot twists and his writing style is just so easy.
But the book is more than time-traveling and history bending. It’s also a love story. Jake happens to find the love of his life in his journeys to stop the assassination. Her name is Sadie and the story of the romance between them is nearly as compelling as the plot about the Kennedy assassination. Her name is Sadie and he meets her when he goes to Texas. I don’t really want to say any more because there are so many twists and turns.
What I will say is this – I loved this book. And his version of the future after Jake comes back, is nothing I would ever have imagined. And that is what makes Stephen King so great at what he does.
This book is not typical King in that it’s not super-scary in the “Cujo” or “Children of the Corn” way. The book is scary in the future that it envisions and the way that history tries to stop Jake’s mission. It’s masterfully plotted and though it’s 842 pages, it reads quickly and does not seem to be too heavy and certainly it’s not hard to read. Keeping track of the characters is challenging in parts, but he weaves things together beautifully and keeps them involved enough so you never really lose track of them.
I haven’t read Stephen King in a long time, mostly because he scares the crap out of me. This book made me think. It’s a tale of be careful what you wish for and maybe things do happen for a reason. There were plenty of things for me to ponder. If time travel were possible, does that mean we should do it? What intended and unintended consequences do our actions have? These questions are answered and give me much more to think about.