By: Stephen King
Review by Jonathan Trice
When it comes to reading for fun I tend to get in a rut. I devoted eighteen months to the works of Neil Gaiman, another six months straight of Edward W. Robertson novels and the past year has seen a heavy rotation of Stephen King. When it was time for a new book, I chose 11/22/63 because it is the first work of historical fiction for Stephen King and I was still in a rut.
Like most of his novels, the story starts off in a small town in Maine. Jake Epping, a high school English teacher has a pretty low-key life until the owner of his favorite diner reveals to him that he has the ability to travel back in time through a portal in the storage room of the restaurant. As one would expect, Jake is extremely dubious until Al convinces him to step through the door and into Lisbon Falls, Maine circa September 9th, 1958. After returning to the diner in present day Al reveals that no matter how long you spend in the past only two minutes elapse in the present day. From here Al reveals to Jake that upon discovering the portal he devised a plan to stop one of the most tragic events of his childhood, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Al is unable to see his plan to fruition after developing terminal lung cancer during his years in the past waiting for 11/22/63. Before heading back to 1958, Al gives Jake an important piece of advice about the past being obstinate and the more he tries to change it the harder he has to fight.
After a lot of convincing and preparation Jake takes over for Al and actually makes two trips to 1958. The first one he prevents the grisly murder of the family of the brain damaged school janitor where he learns that the past can definitely be changed. In his next trip Jake embarks on a five year mission leading up to 11/22/63. Jake goes about changing several key events in Maine before heading south keep tabs on Lee Harvey Oswald and learn everything he can about the events leading up to the assassination. Along the way Jake manages to land a steady teaching job and fall in love with a young librarian named Sadie all the while living his double life spying on the Oswald and his family. Due to the past being obstinate Jake encounters several events of increasing severity that are meant to derail his efforts. Without completely ruining the book, Jake does make to the book depository in Dallas. Unfortunately he learns that his attempts at changing the past have some extremely severe consequences in the future.
Throughout the novel I couldn’t help but notice how much research King put into this book. Several passages had me so intrigued I actually did some fact checking and King was spot on, I was impressed with the amount of effort put into this book. King manages to subtly capture the nostalgia of the 50’s and 60’s without being overly sentimental. I was not only taken in by this, but with how well the character of Jake is developed. It isn’t often that King has a chance to delve so deeply into one character and the life that he leads and the results are impressive. This is one of those books that you can really immerse yourself in and you have a hard time putting it down. 11/22/63 is not your stereotypical Stephen King horror novel and that is what makes it a worthwhile read.
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About the reviewer: New to the reference desk, Jonathan is a recent graduate of the Masters of Library and Information Science program at Drexel University. When not at work, he can either be found in a tattoo chair adding to his collection of art or driving his GTi around cones really fast at a local SCCA Solo Cross event.