Back to the 50’s

“11/22/63” is the kind of book that isn’t really what you think it’s about. It’s been promoted as a time-travelling adventure of a man intent on stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. And while the book does indeed have that premise as its framework, it’s about something more.

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For the uninitiated, Stephen King means horror stories about monsters and hauntings, but for those of us who have absorbed his writings over the years, he is all about people – good people, bad people and the way all kinds of people will act in unexpected ways when faced with something beyond their normal lives. He paints whole miniature worlds, drops something odd – and indeed sometimes frightening – into its midst and sits back and let the people act as they would. At least, that’s the way it’s always seemed to me.

In “11/22/63”, King explores what would happen if an average Joe – or in this case, Jake, is suddenly given the chance to go back in time to a specific point and perhaps change history. Only Jake can’t go back to the day before the assassination or something similarly easy – he can only go to a specific day in 1958 and will then have to spend his time for the 5 years before the assassination in a very different America than he came from. And that is really what this story is all about – the differences and similarities and good and bad of a bygone time – how it looks and feels to a man from 2011 and the seeming inevitability of ordinary life finding you wherever you are. Because while Jake is intent on focusing on tracking a certain Mr. Oswald, he cannot avoid becoming a real presence in the time – with interests, hates and loves.

Apparently, this is the most researched book that King has ever written and as a reader, you do feel that the picture of the time is very accurate and most of all, something that King cares about. I personally know very little of that time other than what I’ve seen in movies, but it comes alive and you can easily imagine what it must have been like.

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I liked this book very much, am very impressed with its depth and shed a few tears when it became clear how the ending would play out, but I did not love it. While the book seems to have attracted many new readers to King – likely because there is very little supernatural going on in this book other than the time travel – I do miss a bit more of suspense, of something making me hold my breath and wonder what’s going to happen next or a sneaking feeling of discomfort and horror.

However, that’s just my preference, and there is no doubt that “11/22/63” is a very well-written, well-researched and lovely story of human nature, love and the inevitability of history and time.

11/22/63 by Stephen King, published by Scribner in January 2011

8 thoughts on “Back to the 50’s

  1. I loved most of this book, though sadly I felt the ending let it down. I found it very evocative, a book that really picked me up and dropped me somewhere else. He sketched the 50s with such nostalgic detail that I really did find it easy to forget that all was not wonderful back then – this was the decade before the Pill, before civil rights, before women came out of the kitchen and into society as a force to be reckoned with. King’s version doesn’t stop over this unpleasantness, but it does create a yearning in the reader (in this reader, anyway) for a simpler time.

    Unfortunately, the ending definitely let the book down, but not to the extent that I’d be put off rereading or recommending it. It felt almost as though he had to get “Stephen King” in there by hook or by crook to remind his readers who they were dealing with, and did so in a bit of a hurry. Thankfully, it’s a tiny part of an overall great read, and one of the few times that a less than perfect ending doesn’t spoilt a book completely. I can imagine him maybe being at a bit of a loss as to where to end it – such a pity he didn’t do so a few chapters before.

  2. I completely agree with you in regards to the wonderful sense of being back in the 50s and it being a more magical time despite the perhaps pink-tinted filter.

    I don’t if it’s because I’m such an experienced King-reader, but I thought the “final” ending was perfect! I didn’t like very much what was the cause of how it ended (hard to explain without giving it away!), but I don’t think I could have accepted any other ending than the way it was. Perhaps done more artfully, but not differently in terms of the story.

  3. While his suspense and horror will forever be my favorite I do love when he blends fantasy and history into his tales. I enjoyed this from the characters to the events as they unfolded. Wonderful review!

    • I completely agree with you! I’ve recently finished his Dark Towers series and that mix of everything he does well – the horror, suspense, fantasy – has quickly become one of my favourites 🙂

      Thanks so much for the kind words and stopping by!

    • Yes, time travel is almost a stable of the fantasy/supernatural genre 🙂

      I personally think that King has managed to “get around it” quite well – meaning that time travel is always SO tricky to do realistically. I would say that he uses it more as a spark for the story rather than the focus and I think that works really well.

      As you can see, those of us who have read it disagree a bit about the ending (which also deals with King’s portrayal/use of time travel), but while I thought it could have been done perhaps more elegantly, I thought it was just the way it had to be 🙂

  4. I thought everything about this book was perfect, and it was on my top ten list for 2012 (?? can’t remember the year it came out). And I thought he handled time travel really well. I never had that “head scratching” feeling of not being able to understand what was happening.

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