Stephen King has written over 50 books, all of them bestsellers, and most of them horror. But before you click off to the next review, let me try to persuade you that 11/22/63 is not typical Stephen King. King has a tendency to include too many characters, too much fluff in the middle, too much blood and gore. And while there may be a little of each of those in 11/22/63, there’s also parallel worlds, love, friendship and a main character with a good heart, who does bad things for good reasons. But mostly there’s an amazing story told.
Jake Epping is a high school English teacher – unassuming, a little boring, no family to speak of. He frequents Al’s Diner, a hole-in-the-wall that serves delicious but very inexpensive burgers, causing rumors that Al uses cats for the meat. One day Jake gets a call from Al and discovers his friend, who the day before was healthy and fit, is close to death from lung cancer. Al shows Jake a portal that exists in the diner’s pantry – a portal that takes those who enter to a beautiful September day in 1958, every single time. And each visit is a total reset of the current timeline – anything that is changed during a trip down the “rabbit-hole” is reset during the next trip. Oh and no matter how much time has passed for the person who uses the portal, only 2 minutes has passed in the real world.
When Al calls Jake he’s just returned from one of his trips down the rabbit-hole, where he has been following Lee Harvey Oswald in an attempt to stop him from killing JFK. While there he was diagnosed with cancer and after realizing he wasn’t going to live long enough to stop the assassination, he returned to the present and decided Jake is the perfect person to pick up the task. Jake agrees to go down the rabbit-hole, taking on the persona of George Amberson, and ends up in Jodie, a small Texas town outside of Dallas. He uses Al’s notes to track down Oswald, while also teaching high school English in Jodie, where he becomes involved in the townspeople and a certain librarian.
Time travel has its own inherent issues and these are addressed in the novel. Al insists that each trip is a reset, but Jake wonders if this is really true. Repeated throughout the book is the idea that the past is obdurate – it doesn’t want to be changed, and any attempt Jake makes to do so is not easily done. Jake also experiences small coincidences that he chalks up to the past harmonizing, but may be more than they seem.
While this isn’t a horror book, there are bad people and they do bad things, so 11/22/63 is not for the faint of heart. There’s also an undercurrent of creepiness that accompanies Jake’s foray into the past. If you don’t mind a few bad things and like time travel and what-if stories, then I highly recommend this novel, which I’ve added to our Five Star Reads.
Notes on the audiobook: I received both the hardcover and MP3 versions of 11/22/63, which greatly increased my reading speed. With a running time of 31 hours this is a great audiobook for a long commute or while doing housework – I listened while wrapping Christmas presents. Narrator Craig Wasson did a great job with both Maine and Texas accents and really brought the character of Jake to life.
Nancy enjoys the comforts and technologies we have today, but wonders if life really was simpler in the 50s. She writes about her 2 boys, books and life in Colorado at Life With My Boys and Books.