If you were ever a reader of Stephen King novels, you’ll probably remember his earlier works as being quite different from writings that came later in his career. I loved his early novels, but stopped reading him a while back—sometime after It I think. He just got weird. There was no more of the psychological thriller stuff that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, no more of the “who IS this guy” kind of characters. Things started coming out of sinks and clowns were doing despicable things and it just got too weird and creepy and bloody. So I stopped reading his books.
Then in 2009, Under the Dome was published and I started hearing talk that this book was more like his earlier works, more like The Stand and The Shining. People who, like me, had given up on King were reading him again and liking what they were reading. I didn’t read it…I wasn’t convinced enough to plow through 1,074 pages just to discover it was more weird stuff.
Fast forward two years to 2011 and along came King’s latest novel, 11/22/63. Like Under the Dome this book was getting very positive reviews. As soon as I saw the book and read the premise behind the story, I wanted to read it. But at 842 pages I put it on my to-read list and looked longingly at it from time to time, thinking “When will I ever find time to read THIS?” Fast forward another year to spring of 2012, when my neighborhood book club chose 11/22/63 to be our September selection. I had found my opening! Thank you book club! It was a great read and I was through it in no time-I didn’t want to put it down.
The story centers around time travel which is a difficult concept to wrap my head around. This time travel is even stranger to comprehend because when the protagonist, Jake Epping, steps through a time portal into 1958, he always steps into the same place and it’s always exactly the same time. And no matter how long he stays in the past, when he returns to the present, only 2 minutes have gone by. Lastly, each time Jake returns to 1958, the past has reset itself!
Of course the reason for his trip back in time is the real story. Jake is going back to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. It’s also a wonderful tale showing how life can change in a split second….how one short moment in time, one small change, can alter a whole lifetime.
Jake returns to 1958 in Derry, Maine and begins his life there as George Amberson. Before beginning the long involved journey that will eventually lead him to Dallas, George decides to prevent the murder of an entire family he had learned about from one of his GED students in 2010. He only manages to accomplish part of his task and begins to discover that the obdurate past is going to resist change in very dramatic ways. George must make a hasty retreat “back to the future”. When he once again steps through the portal into 1958, he begins to notice very slight differences—and the reader begins to wonder what affect George’s changes to history will have.
Because time resets itself when he returns to 2010, George can go back and this time successfully complete the job he set out to do in Derry. He is now able to begin his preparation for stopping the event on 11/22/63 that he knows will change the world. His planning involves following the activities and life of Lee Harvey Oswald, his family, and his acquaintances. Paramount to his plan is making sure that Oswald acted alone that day. So a lot of actual history is revisited in this novel.
George insinuates himself into life in a small suburb of Dallas. He begins to really become a part of the community and the time and therein lies a mess of really big problems.
Without spoiling things and revealing how the story ends, I will say that King’s vision of time travel does take into account the fact that changing something in one reality will certainly bring change to another reality. The changes may or may not be for the better.
So readers, if you were a Stephen King fan go back and give him another chance. If you’ve never read his work, this is a good one to start with. King actually started this book back in the 70’s so you’ll be treated to a thriller very similar in style to those early works—the ones that made the hair on our neck stand up. And I promise….it doesn’t feel like 842 pages!!