Review: 11/22/63

Hellooooo friends, fans, and visitors. I hope you’re as excited as I am that January is almost over. One thing that’s great about this freezing weather though is that it gives me an extra excuse to curl up with a good book while I’m avoiding winter. Plenty of time to hide under the blankets with a novel is exactly what I needed to reach the finish line of:

11/22/63 by Stephen King.

First of all, let me start of with a warning: this book is a marathon, not a sprint. My copy is a whopping 842 pages long, which is no record for Stephen King, but it’s not a short book by any means. That said, I didn’t feel as though chunks of the story were superfluous, as I have with other long King novels. This writer is a master of characterization, and while the details of each person in his stories (and many locations which are also “characterized,” especially the places in this book) create a full and colorful image of each person and place, they can feel a little overdone and overwhelming at times. However, while I’ve felt that other King novels would be just as good in shorter versions (I’m looking at you, Under the Dome), 11/22/63 was not one of those. I thought it had a bit of a slow start, but there was not a single page I would’ve changed.

“Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, okay? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning it’s fabulous gears.”

About the story: Jake Epping begins as an ordinary high school teacher, frustrated about the state of his love life after his divorce, and about how uninspired most of his students seem to be. One GED student writes an essay that stands out, however, and Jake becomes mildly obsessed with the massacre this student has described from his own family history. When a local friend, who appears to have aged significantly and suffered through several stages of cancer overnight, approaches Jake about a time portal and asks for his help in completing a mission, Jake decides there’s nothing holding him back from seeing for himself and agreeing to help. The mission: preventing JFK’s assassination. The catch: the portal only leads to September 9, 1958, and Jake also harbors some doubt about who JFK’s killer is–or rather, if there’s more than one. While he’s waiting for the right year to roll around, Jake renames himself George, attempts to stop the massacre he read an essay about in 2011 and an accidental shooting that his local friend had become similarly obsessed with. Then he moves from the vicinity of the portal in Maine to Texas, to research Oswald and his buddies and earn some money teaching, all while writing a secret book about his experiences with time travel and battling a past that doesn’t want to be changed. It’s his teaching job that leads George to Sadie, his perfect woman, but it’s far from a perfect romance. George is afraid to tell Sadie about his mission and his “past”, which is a divisive issue for the couple. On top of that, he knows Sadie doesn’t belong in the future anymore than George belongs in the past, no matter how desperately they’d like to make their relationship work, and these problems don’t even come close to the physical difficulties they’ll face as the time to save Kennedy approaches and the past fights tooth and nail to balance itself in true Stephen-King-novel fashion.

What sets this book apart from other King novels: there are certainly other King books I love, but this is one of the few (including The Dead Zone) in which I really liked the main character throughout the entire book. The sci-fi elements were well done and not over-the-top crazy or dark (Pet Sematary). Furthermore, the length was not too extreme for me (Under the Dome), and with all the details about life in the 60’s there were times it felt more like historical fiction–which i prefer–than sci-fi. If book size doesn’t scare you and you’re looking for an easy entrance into the science fiction genre, or to Stephen King’s works, this is it. I give 5/5 stars.

Further recommendations:

  1. For those who like the idea of time travel but want something lighter: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a great romance (more adult), as is My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares (more YA).
  2. For those who want something a little farther into the realm of sci-fi: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a great classic that involves traveling through time and place, and also has some elements of historical fiction.
  3. For those looking for another great Stephen King book: Lisey’s Story is another one of my personal favorites, but focuses on traveling through dream space rather than time. If you like the protagonist of 11/22/63, try The Dead Zone next.

Further incentive: If you finish 11/22/63 in time, I believe there’s a TV mini-series based on this book being released in February. But we have to read the book first, right guys? Or is that just me?

Coming Next: I’m torn. I wanted to talk about James Dashner’s YA Maze Runner series, which I’ve been dabbling in for a few months, but I also just read Sarah Gruen’s new  romantic historical fiction book, At the Water’s Edge, which I really want to share with you guys. Do you have a preference?

As always, I’m open to any recommendations you have for me! Any author, any genre, any length. If there’s a review you’re looking for, let me know. I’ll keep the reviews and recommendations coming!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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