I knew where I was; Lisbon Falls, Maine, deep in the heart of Androscoggin County. The real question was when I was. – from 11/22/63, page 31 -
Jake Epping is thirty-five years old, a high school teacher living in Maine in the year 2011. Jake makes a little extra money teaching GED classes and he meets a janitor named Harry – a soft-spoken man whose essay about the murder of his mother and siblings in 1958 blows Jake away. So when Al, a friend of Jake’s who owns a local restaurant, reveals a “rabbit hole” to the past, Jake takes it. What unfolds is travel back in time to the late 1950′s, just over four years before JFK is assassinated. Jake has the power to change the past, but will it make the future better, or worse?
Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is a sprawling doorstopper filled with realistic characters and plenty of “what-ifs.” He takes the reader back to a time in history when gas was cheap, racism was rampant, women’s rights were just beginning to be glimpsed, and people left their doors unlocked. There is no Internet, no terrorists, no hyped up airport security. As Jake navigates this world from the past, he must live two lives – one as an affable school teacher and another as a man from the future who plans on changing history forever.
In true King fashion, readers will recognize characters from previous novels. Jake spends a bit of time in Derry, Maine – the town where It was set – and the “clown murders” are still being talked about there. Derry is still not quite right with the stench of industry and the dark Barrens where the sewers empty.
But the focus of the book actually takes place in Dallas and just outside of that city. King spends a lot of time creating Jake’s alternate life there, introducing dozens of characters and intertwining their stories. Sadie, a school librarian, becomes a central character in the story, a twist that makes the plot less predictable.
Thematically, King explores the idea of history repeating itself, the sense that things happen for a reason, and the danger of trying to change history. The Butterfly Effect, the idea that small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state, becomes a major theme in the novel.
It was clear to me that King spent a lot of time researching for this book – the history, politics, and sociology of the times is staggering in its detail. That detail allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story and transports her back in time.
King is truly a master storyteller. It has been a long time since I have read one of his novels – but I was instantly reminded why I have always loved his books. The characters leap from the pages, fully formed and believable. Despite this being a time-travel book, something which is clearly outside reality, I found myself firmly believing the premise. And this is what King does best – he engages his audience, takes them places where they might not travel themselves, and convinces them this could happen.
My only criticism is that I think the novel could have been edited down by about 200 pages. But, this is Stephen King, not only a master storyteller, but the king of the chunkster…and so, this minor quibble should not deter anyone from picking up a copy of 11/22/63. Despite its heft, the novel is intriguing enough to keep even the most distracted reader turning the pages.
Readers of horror, historical fiction, and time travel novels, as well as those who have loved Stephen King’s work in the past, will not want to miss 11/22/63.
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