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11/22/63- A Book Review

 

 

I occasionally interrupt this cartooning/illustration blog to digress on some other subjects of which I have an interest. Some such subjects include bodybuilding/weightlifting, gadgets and technology and the occasional movie or book review. This post is of the latter variety.

Followers of this blog might know I am a pretty big Stephen King fan. I have read everything he’s ever written, with the exception of his non-fiction book On Writing, and I’ll get to that one of these days. The Dark Tower books are particular favorites of mine. The comic book geek in me enjoys his subject matter (usually horror and/or the occult, occasionally sci-fi, sometimes all of the above), but what really hooks me with King’s books is the way he constructs and treats his characters. Sometimes he misfires and they become caricatures or steroetypes (in his earlier books there is always one horrific bitch of a female authority figure with few redeeming qualities), but more often the characters that populate his books are wonderfully flawed people put in extraordinary situations and allowed to find their way into all the corners. His dialogue and descriptions of surrounding life are also vibrant and terrifically THERE. His books are almost always most enjoyable in the journey and not necessarily in the conclusion, although his later books seem to have much more satisfying endings than some of his earlier works.

Which brings me to his latest novel, 11/22/63.

While any person who enjoys great fiction writing could appreciate any of King’s better works for the reasons I cited above, his subject matter does get in the way of that enjoyment if the reader is not “into” those kinds of books. The Lovely Anna, for example, loves great books but doesn’t enjoy King’s work because there is too much horror in most of them. In fact, other than some of his short stories like The Body, Hearts in Atlantis and a couple of others, I don’t think I could recommend any of King’s work to her that I am sure she would thoroughly enjoy.

Except 11/22/63.

This might be King’s most generally appealing work since The Green Mile in 1996, and is certainly a big departure from his usual focus on the supernatural or the terrifying. Oh, there’s a touch of all that here as you might expect, but the driving force behind this book is a timeless (literally) love story and the meticulous examination and exploration of the events leading up to, and the people involved with, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The story centers around a high school English teacher named Jake Epping from a small town called Lisbon Falls, Maine, present day. Jake is shown a secret by Al, a local diner owner… that there is a hole in time in the diner’s back storage room that leads to Sept. 9th, 1958 at 11:58 am in the same Lisbon Falls. Al has been making regular visits back to 1958, always emerging at the same moment in time each trip, and has become obsessed with using his time-travel “rabbit hole” to go back and prevent the assassination of JFK. Al is dying of cancer, however, so he has chosen Jake to take up his quest. A series of test runs to see how the future might be affected occur. Al preventing the paralyzing of a young girl in a hunting accident for one. Jake stopping the murder of an entire young family, save the one survivor who Jake knows in the present day, for another. These lead up to Jake traveling back once again, this time to stay for over five years to wait out the assassination attempt. Al’s research and notes, taken when he himself visited for many years but became too sick to make it to November 22nd, 1963, guide Jake as he watches Lee Harvey Oswald intent on determining if he really acted alone and therefore that killing him would prevent the murder of Kennedy. The past doesn’t want to be changed, however, and resists in many tangible ways. In between, Jake falls in love and finds a renewed life in the small town of Jodie, Texas.

True to most King books, you quickly come to care for the characters involved and Jake’s time between 1958 and 1963 gradually changes from just a waiting game to a simple but enriching life and love he didn’t think was possible since his divorce back in the present day. Unlike most King books, the deep and painstaking research of historical facts shine through every page.  The sumptuous details of the late fifties and early sixties era New England and Texas, the events leading up to that fateful day in 1963, and the specifics of the lives of the Oswald’s are center stage as Jake tries to balance his new-found life/love and his mission. History buffs will marvel at being virtually transported to that time and place, seeing inside the lives of Oswald, his Russian wife Marina and their daughter June plus their extended family and acquaintances as Jake weaves his surveillance about them using his foreknowledge of their movements and plans to keep ahead of them. Fascinating stuff. Jake’s falling in love with fellow teacher Sadie Dunhill is heart-warming and heart-wrenching, as the meddling with time becomes serious. It’s a very long tale, but the journey, as always with King, is an enjoyable ride.

Having just finished the book, I am going to hand it off to The Lovely Anna, confident she is going to enjoy it as much as I did. If you’ve never read a Stephen King book because his usual subject matter doesn’t appeal to you, I’d heartily recommend you give this one a read. It’s got the best of King without the scary, bloody bits getting in the way.

As for me, I’ve only got a few months to wait until I get to revisit Mid-World and the land of The Dark Tower in the novel The Wind Through the Keyhole. :D

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11 Responses to “11/22/63- A Book Review”

  1. Rob Hensby says:

    I would usually wait for the movie, but based on Tom’s review I’m gonna give the book ago when it comes out over this side of the pond!:-)

  2. Richard says:

    I’m an off-again on-again King fan, just finished Christine a couple days ago. Granted, the newest book I’ve read by him was Desperation published in 1996 (I’ve been working my way through his older stuff). The problem I have with him, and the reason I got frustrated with him a long time ago and didn’t read anything of his for years (I’ve had a recent resurgence in interest), is his books seemed to grow larger and larger, but the PLOT didn’t get any bigger. I love his characterization, but sometimes he just goes waaaaaaaay overboard. A plot that would have made a good short story is fluffed out into a 500 page novel. He’s a genius at creating interesting characters and a believable world, but it can get really dull reading all that when you’re anxious for the plot to move forward. I plan on checking out some of his latest works and hope he’s gotten better about this. Your review certainly makes this book sound promising.

    • Tom says:

      I see where you are coming from about King’s penchant to “pad” his books with too much characterization and not enough plot. I guess that is a matter of personal tastes. I like the slow burn sort of novel, and enjoy getting to know the characters, see under their skin, and become absorbed int he environment they are in. So many of King’s books center on the new England area and small town life, and that is a large part of their charm for me. One could argue the plot of Salem’s Lot, (essentially Dracula in a small town) is a much shorter story drawn out in a larger book. However the vivid descriptions of the town and it’s people are a major part of the appeal and personality of the book. If that’s not your cup o’tea, then 11/22/63 will probably drag for you in places, since you already know what the climax of the book is going to be and you might be impatient to get there. I still enjoy the journey more.

  3. Kalle says:

    Speaking of the Dark Tower, which I’m about halfway through, could you do a rendition of Roland Deschain:)?

  4. Robin Crowley says:

    Is it available for Kindle?

  5. Don says:

    Tom,
    As a Stephen King fan all the way back to The Stand”, I appreciated your review of 11/22/63. I am generally pretty useless whenever a new King epic comes out. I also appreciated your defense of King’s character development. It’s the personalities and the depth that draws me into those stories so deeply, and I too have read them all, with the exception of the Dark Tower series. Glad I still have that to look forward to. Incidentally, as an aspiring writer, I have a dog-eared copy of “On Writing.” I recommend it and refer to it often.

  6. Dave says:

    I’m a huge King fan. To be honest i love the way he characterizes. I have never read a Stephen King book i haven’t enjoyed. Dark Tower, IT and The Stand are my favourites. Will definitely give the new one a go thanks Tom. Rob, never wait for the film. They are always poor compared to the book. Has there ever been a good adaptation of a SK book? Discuss……

    • Tom says:

      That’s a tough question. I’ve loved several movies that were based on King books but not as adaptations… simply as movies. The Shining, for one. I guess for the most faithful of all adaptations of King books as good movies, I would have to go with either Stand by Me (i.e. The Body) or The Green Mile.

  7. Dave says:

    Two good examples Tom. The Shawshank Redemption is another. But in the main his books get to heavily changed. The Shining is a prime example, its as if Kubrick just took the character names and location, then made the rest up himself! Would love to see The Dark Tower attempted. There was talk of three films and two tv series with Javier Bardem as Roland. Ron Howard directing, but think thats stalled now.

  8. Ryan says:

    I recently finished this book too, couldn’t put it down in fact. The most interesting thing about it, I think, was that the villain wasn’t a person (i.e., Lee Harvey Oswald); it was time itself. Weird as it sounds, King almost made “time” into a character, the way it got increasingly difficult for Jake to make any progress. Reminded me of the movie Inception, when they’re walking around in the dream and all the projections are looking at them funny, and you find out that they know there’s an intruder and it isn’t safe. While not strictly a scary book, this part of it was really creepy (in a good way).

  9. brianwtaylor says:

    Just finished the book yesterday. I really enjoyed it, I must have, I finished it quicker than I read books that are less than half as long. “Time” is not really a character, its the place the plot unfolds; also, how can time be ‘evil’. The evil is the potential that King gives man to monkey around with history–the bad element is ‘good intentions’. I thought this book had two big similarities with Mathieson’s BID TIME RETURN. There’s romance and time travel. In BID TIME RETUN, there is no ‘reset’, the protagonist is part of the past and the present. When you peel away the time travel and the idea that we can improve the past by messing around with it — your left with a love story.

 

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