If I remember right, “Christine” was the very first Stephen King book I read, and since then I have read every book published by Mr. King. The King of Horror is my go-to man when it comes to wanting something to read and not sure what I want to put my hands on. He has never let me down and always creates a story that is not only intriguing but can envelop the reader completely. I have read every thing he has written to date, and when he announced he was retiring, I desperately sought out other similar authors. Dean Koontz and Clive Barker were a couple, but none seemed to grab me as much as Stephen King. I have other favorite authors, but Stephen King will always be my utmost favorite. So with that in mind, understand I enjoy every Stephen King book and don’t think I could give them a bad review if I tried. This one is no different.
A lot of critics say he gets too wordy, but I think that is what I enjoy in a Stephen King novel, the expansion of the main story into something else entirely and eventually he will bring you back to the main idea that started the story in the first place. This book is exactly that. The main premise is that there is a portal that goes back to September 1958, and when you return it is only as if two minutes have passed, no matter how long you stay in the past. So with that as the main part of the story and the title of the book “11/22/63,” you know someone is going back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Again, this is a Stephen King book and the development of a story doesn’t stop with that idea. There are whole lives involved and whoever goes back to the past has to live in the past for five years before the event happens, so now the story really unfolds.
Basically Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. In the beginning of the story he receives an essay from one of the students, which is a true Stephen King gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on a mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
It seems Al has tried this but the past is obdurate and does everything it can to prevent the future from being altered. Al has been diagnosed with cancer and is about to die. Jake is the only one that can change the past to make the future better. Before he does something as drastic as preventing Kennedy’s assassination, Jake decides to first try and save Harry Dunning’s family from his murderous father. While the past does try to keep Jake from changing the outcome, he manages, barely, to save all but one member of the family. When he returns to the present he sees that it can be done but that there are consequences.
One other thing, each time someone goes back through the portal to 1958, the past/future resets. So Jake must save several people on the second time round and eventually move to Texas and get ready for the big mission. Here’s where the story gets involved and becomes more than just a time travel novel. Jake, Now George Amberson, has taken up teaching in a small town while he stalks Lee Harvey Oswald, to confirm he is the one and only shooter and to plan on how to stop Oswald before the deed is done.
During this time Jake/George, falls in love, finds his life is teaching and that he loves helping out the students, but all the while Oswald lurks near and must be stopped.
So while enjoying a story of a man out of time thoroughly getting lost in life, the time travel aspect keeps coming up, especially the mention of the “butterfly-effect,” and how much of the future is changed by his simple interactions with people and especially students. This effect is made even more prominent when near the end of the book he returns to his own time, only it is not his time anymore.
Can this simple (really not that simple) plan of saving one of history’s favorite Presidents be a good thing or a bad thing. In writing this story King not only relied on his gift of an elaborate imagination, but he also had many discussions with historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin and actually has a fully thought out and debated plan for the future with Kennedy surviving, which may surprise you.
All around this is a fun book and yet another Stephen King book that provides one more answer to the “What If” question.