Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

First off, let me say I'm not, normally, a reader of Stephen King's books - but having said that - how could I resist this one? November 22, 1963 is a day that is burned in my subconscious, the day a puny little nobody murdered the President of the United States. The Kennedy assassination still lives in the memory of those of us of a certain age and always will. How could it not? In so many ways, it was the end of our country's innocence.

When I heard that King had devised a plot in which a time traveler goes back and tries to 'fix things' by stopping Lee Harvey Oswald in that odious room in that depressing School Book Depository building in 1963 Dallas, my immediate thought was: why didn't someone think of this sooner?

The book is long - 842 pages and probably didn't need to be. BUT, it reads quickly. The typeface is a handy size (adding to the page count) and there's nothing in here that requires heavy duty lifting when it comes to ideas or plot devices. It is simply an enjoyable, fast-paced, thrilling read which also happens to be very well written.

The main genius, I think, of King's device is to keep us guessing for most of the book. Will his 'hero' Jake Epping aka George Amberson, of Lisbon Falls, Maine, get to Oswald in time? Has he finessed it too finely? Time works against George in many obstructive ways. As King reminds us, "...the past is obdurate."  The past wants to stay as is - it will put up road blocks to that end. And boy does it. As 11/22/63 gets closer and closer, you can feel time slipping away as George is given more and more hurdles to overcome.

Turns out that the time travel device will only set George down in the past of 1958. So he has to patiently wait for 1963 to come around again to act. In the meantime, he begins setting some things right as best he can - saving the lives of a family which had been slaughtered by their murderous drunk of a father. Saving a girl from life-long paralysis. Small (in the great scheme of things) seeming episodes which any one of us might have tackled given the time.

When George finally gets to Texas and settles in to wait his chance, he takes work as a substitute teacher and falls in love with Sadie Dunhill, a fellow teacher with a rather strange marriage in her past. It is this love which, aside from his quest to stop an assassin, becomes the guiding light of George's life.

Time travel is a tricky thing - it's best not to interfere with too much. (Haven't we been told that over and over?) Events can turn on a dime. 'The butterfly effect..." is an idea which, unfortunately for George, might be more than theory. (If a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere, eventually it means a monsoon somewhere else...or words to that effect.)

This is an amazingly accomplished story. The book of a master writer at the top of his game. Not only was I caught up in George Amberson's odyssey to set things right, but I was strangely fascinated by the view King gives us into the sordid life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the ultimate sad sack loser who, with a mail order rifle, still managed to change history.

King makes a familiar story (at least for those of us who lived through it the first time) seem new. The book builds in breakneck excitement until each page is flying by as George and Sadie must battle against all sorts of odds (some of them quite horrible) to save a President.

Will they succeed?

Will time cooperate?

Will we avert the Vietnam war?

Will our future be better for it?

Read the book and see.

11/22/63 is really quite a special experience.


  1. I haven't read your review because I'm listening to this on audiobook and am simply loving it!!! Jake is in Texas, directing plays (the whole Of Mice and Men part was great!!) and teaching English - love this book! On audio this is amazing!

  2. I did the same thing, Julie. I refused to read any blog reviews while I was reading the book. I can just bet that the audio version is great. Who's doing the narration?

  3. Yvette, much as I love reading, I usually feel a little daunted at reading a novel of 800+ pages, but your review of 11/22/63 sure has me intrigued! Besides, let's face it, Stephen King is one hell of a storyteller. I was only a baby when JFK was assassinated, but that terrible day changed everything for so many people. 11/22/63 is definitely going on my must-read list! Great review, my friend!

  4. Yvette, Craig Wasson is doing the narration, he's very good! He really acts it out, I loved his version of Frank Dunning - sounded exactly like Jack Nicholson in the Shining - how a propos! Love his Al Templeton, reminds me of some character actor from long ago whose name escapes me. I also love, amazingly enough, his soft southern accent for Sadie! Frazz sounds like Burt Lancaster! It's really something! I'm so captivated with this book, but only really listen in the car or when I'm cooking or folding laundry - ha!

  5. Thanks, Dorian! The pages fly by, really. Don't be daunted. :)

    It would be a shame NOT to read this because of the length.

  6. A great review, Yvette. and I did enjoy the book 11/22/63 I thought the character of Jake worked very well. If he had been anything less of the character he acquired, I think the story would have lacked. But he had such a perseverance. It worked as a romance, and had an unforgettable ending. I did have to almost check the name of the author when I finished reading. Personally, and although I have read several I havnt read them all, I think this is his best work todate.

  7. Julie: Oh, I'm wondering if my library has the audio version. At some point I may want to have a good listen. :)

    I'm a big fan of audio books, but lately I haven't been listening much. Just reading away in between Christmas prep. :)

  8. Dave: I think you and I agree, though I've only ever read one other of his books and wasn't terribly impressed.

    I will say, though, that his memoir ON WRITING is wonderful.

    11/22/63 is a humdinger of a book!
    I recommend it highly.

  9. I've never read anything by Stephen King, since I'm not a big fan of horror (unless it's a Vincent Price movie). This actually sounds intriguing and I think my husband would get a big kick out of reading it, too. He's always been interested in JFK.

  10. I'm not big on horror either, Lauren. This book isn't like that at all. At least in my view.

    This would make a great present for your hubby. Definitely. :)

  11. Yvette, I just skimmed your review as I just wanted to get a sense of whether or not you recommend this one (I'm not a Stephen King fan). The premise sounds absolutely fascinating and I've been waiting for blogger friends' reviews to come in. Looks like you and Julie both enjoyed it, so I'm adding it to my 2012 list.

    Thanks, and have a wonderful Christmas!

  12. I LOVED everything about this story! I am so excited that you enjoyed it as well. My review gushed all over the place because I had just finished the book and I was so sad it had ended. Loved everything about it, LOVED.

  13. Thank you so much, Joanne. Merry Christmas to you as well.:)

    You can't go wrong on this one. I'm glad you're adding 11/22/63 to your 2012 list. (You will be too.)

  14. Natalie, for once I'm in accord with all the Stephen King hoopla around this book. The NY Times even named it one of the Ten Best of the Year. That carries a bit of weight with me.

    I didn't gush because at its heart, this book has such a sadness to it - at least for those of us who lived through the original assassination.

    But I do recommend it very hightly.

  15. I am a big Stephen King fan and have read most of his books, so this book is on my Christmas wish list, Yvette.
    King is always a little "wordy" so his books are long, but that is part of his charm as far as I'm concerned. I bet dollars to donuts that this book will be made into a movie one day.

  16. Pat: It would be a difficult movie to make because, in its way, it's a fairly complex story. But I could see it happening. Okay, now I've got casting on the brain...who to play George? Who to play Sadie? Who to play Lee Harvey Oswald? Who to play....???

    Stay tuned!

  17. This is an extremely readable and exciting novel. I'm sure his research was exacting to the letter, but the chapter where Deke and Jake are watching a western on TV caught my attention as John Wayne and Wallace Beery never made a movie together. Perhaps King was thinking of Noah Beery? I recommend this book!!


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