Fluffy Summer Travel Reads / Historical Fiction

Review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Note: The Book Stop is officially on vacation.  I wrote this ahead of time so I may not respond to your comments (but please comment).  Enjoy!

If you’re a Stephen King fan, especially a fan of his older books, you’ll appreciate this one, because he really gets back to the detailed way he used to write.  A lot of his newer books read like they’re ready to go straight to movie, and that’s understandable since so many of his books HAVE been made into movies.  But I like his old, really get-into-someone’s-head style of writing.

If you’re not a Stephen King fan, but you either love time travel fiction, or you remember the 60s and want to relive them, you’ll also appreciate this book.  I’d be really interested to hear what my parents or in-laws thought of this book, having lived through the time of Kennedy’s assassination.  I know it’s one of those life-scarring moments but haven’t experienced it personally.  On the other hand, I don’t think I’d want to read a book this detailed about 9/11, so maybe this book isn’t for those who were there.  I don’t know but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the plot of this book already, but it’s about Jake Epping, a guy who discovers a portal that goes back to 1958.  His friend urges him to go back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.  He also has one or two other things he’d like to put right.  Of course this means spending 4-5 years in the past.  Is it worth it?

King puts a lot of thought into the “rules” of time travel, which is important to the story.  What’s unusual here is the automatic re-set rule.  In this book, if the person gets back to modern-day in one piece and then goes back into the portal, there’s a total re-set.  Nothing changed in the first round stays.  So while Jake worries about the implications of going to the past, he’s comforted by the fact that he can always re-do it if it goes wrong.  He can even experiment a few times just to see what happens.

King really immerses you in the history and also the sense of time and place.  I love how much research he did, and it shows. If you’re expecting horror because it’s Stephen King, think again.  This is a lot more drama and history than horror, although King is always good at threading a sense of unease throughout his stories.

This is a book I’d recommend to most people, although I’m not sure it lived up to all the hype for me, for a few reasons.  The first is that at times it gets too slow and detailed, and there were places that could have used a lot of editing.  I learned a LOT about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, maybe too much (and you know how I like detail).   The history bogs down the story at times –unless you really, really want to know that much about Oswald’s relationship with his mother.

The second reason is that I had a hard time with the premise.  And by that I don’t mean time travel.  Anyone who reads a book about time travel has to be willing to suspend disbelief enough to accept that someone could step outside a diner and into a time portal that takes him to 1958.

No, the premise I struggled with was the “stop Oswald and save the world” idea.  Jake himself raises warning bells about changing the past, but convinces himself that preventing Kennedy’s assassination will be a net good for the world.  He thinks saving Kennedy will prevent Vietnam, but from the very beginning I couldn’t see that this was a rational leap of faith.  More than that, he spends over four years in the past, and while he says he’s going to respect the “butterfly effect” – meaning every little thing he changes can have huge implications for the future – he doesn’t.  Not by a long shot.

So I found myself really uncomfortable throughout the book about what Jake’s doing – I just didn’t get what he was thinking or how he could justify most of what he did.  It didn’t make sense, and that was a problem for me.  But, maybe those of you who lived through Kennedy’s assassination would do the same if you could.

One thing that was really cool about this book: early on, Jake finds himself in 1958 Derry, Maine.  And if you’re an It fan, you’ll know that Derry just isn’t a good place to be.  King brings back a few of his It characters and it made me really nostalgic.  In a weird way, since It is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

So a little trip down memory lane in more ways than one.

6 thoughts on “Review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  1. I’m reading this right now and really quite enjoying it. I pretty much agree with all you say in this review – there are slow bits, there are part that could be edited but I feel so involved that I don’t really care or mind. Kinda like how I felt with The Stand.

    I like the It references but feel guilty that I never finished IT because I just got so frustrated and bored after 1000 where nothing really happened that he couldn’t have done in 500 (if that).

    I do want to read more King though as this is only my second (not including It).

    • If you liked The Stand I would definitely try some of his older books — so much better than the newer ones, although they might be a little dated. Salem’s Lot and Christine kept me up nights, and The Dead Zone is more like The Stand, not scary but disturbing (and perfect for an election year if you’re in the US). King’s older books were great at taking everyday things (like the old car in Christine or the dog in Cujo) and making you look at them a completely different way.

  2. I loved this book and I really wasn’t (but am crash-course becoming) a big fan of King. I don’t think I questioned Jake’s motivations other than a what-the-heck why-not attitude but really loved the romance bit. I’m not reading IT and need to go back to 11/22/63 and re-read the Derry parts because they so went over my heard. (I’m LOVING IT, btw)

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