“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.
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.
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