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.
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.