By Stephen King
In Stores Now
I like a lot of different kinds of books and have many different interests. So it’s no surprise that my “To Be Read” pile is much taller than my nearly 6-foot-frame. However, very few books contain as many of my top interests as Stephen King’s latest book released at the end of 2011, “11/22/63.” I love Stephen King books. I have been extremely interested in the assassination of John F. Kennedy since I was a teenager. And I love time travel stories. This book combines all three, so I had high hopes going into my reading of “11/22/63.” I was not disappointed.
If you are only a fan of King’s horror novels, you might be sad to know this book does not fit in that genre at all. This one is more science fiction, with a healthy dose of historical fiction and alternative history. However, even if you have never read any of King’s non-horror titles, you must give “11/22/63” a try.
High school English teacher Jake Epping is comfortable, if somewhat unhappy, in his mundane life in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He is recently divorced from his alcoholic wife when his life hits one of those “watershed moments.” In addition to teaching high school English, Jake also teaches GED classes at the school. When he asks his class to write about a moment that changed their lives, he is surprised to discover a heart-wrenching story behind the slow-witted school janitor who is working toward his diploma.
Two years later, Jake is summoned to the local diner by the owner, Al Templeton. Al shares a deep secret with Jake — In the storeroom of the diner is a portal that links to 1958. All you have to do is step through the portal and you will be transported to Sept. 9, 1958 at 11:58 AM. No matter when you step through or how long you are gone before you return, the next time you step through the portal, it will be Sept. 9, 1958 at 11:58 AM. According to Al, there are two limitations. First, no matter how long you are gone, when you come back, only two minutes will have passed in the present. And secondly, each time you go back to the past, there is a reset. It’s 11:58 a.m., and everything you did on your previous trip has been erased.
Al tells Jake he has just returned from spending four years in the past because he is dying of cancer and needs to pass on his secret before he dies. Besides imparting this secret to Jake, Al also wants to transfer his mission to his friend — stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Assuming a new identity, Jake — now known as George Amberson — sets about righting the wrongs of the past, with the goal of building a better future. But he finds that the past doesn’t always want to be changed, or as Jake/George says, the past is obdurate, and you can’t always predict what the future will hold.
I have often wondered about how time travel would work if it were a reality. What would the ripple effects be of even the most minute change to the past? How would simply your presence in the past affect the future? King takes some of the expected steps as he tells his tale of Jake/George traversing the barriers of time and space, but he also throws in some unexpected twists. At its heart, “11/22/63” is much more than a time travel story. It is a story of love, loss, free will and destiny. King makes you think and wrenches your heart as he leads Jake/George through his adventure.
King has said he originally had the idea for this story when he was still working as a full-time teacher, so he didn’t have the time for the comprehensive research necessary to bring the late 1950s/early 1960s to life as fully as he has in “11/22/63.” I am very glad that he eventually got back around to this story and has written one of his best works in decades.
Even though the book is more than 800 pages long, I was sad when the story reached its end. I wanted to read more about Jake/George and his story. At the end of the day, shouldn’t that be true of any well-written story.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I give “11/22/63” a 5.