Book Review: 11.22.63 / Author: Stephen King / Format: Paperback / Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks / Release Date: July 5th
11.22.63 is the date remembered by millions across the world. The date that Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
This is Jake Epping’s story, a 35 year old divorcee teacher living in Maine –where else – who travels back in time to prevent Kennedy’s assassination. There’s a catch: the time portal opens in 1958 and each time Jake uses the portal history is reset. Jake has to live five years in the past before that fateful day in Dallas can begin. Enough time for Jake to carve out a life for himself, fall in love and make mistakes along the way.
Most of us have a passing familiarity with Kennedy’s death or, at the very least, watched JFK (’91) directed by Oliver Stone. Conspiracy theories abound, and King is quick to debunk these as pure hokum, staking a claim that Oswald was the sole gunman – and who can say, perhaps he was! Either way, it’s a smart move. Epping stalks Oswald, bugs his house, moves in next door, and through this we’re given insights into the man, indeed the monster, that Oswald was set to become. King’s portrayal of Lee Harvey Oswald is perhaps the novel’s strongest point.
Stephen King’s love for this era is evident in his attention to detail and manages to create a vivid sense of ‘50’s/‘60’s America. King was eleven in 1958, the year Epping steps through the portal, a year the King family bought their first TV set and also the year that he and his brother built a Super Dooper Electro-magnet in their basement and fused the whole of the street. There’s a nostalgic feel to the novel, but King tempers this with a cross-section of humanity complete with its many failings and strengths, and Epping makes for a strong protagonist with just the right levels of empathy and motivation to root for him right from the start.
This is the period that started King’s interest in film, such as: Night of the Living Dead, Attack of the Giant Leeches, Dementia 13, The Haunting, and of particular importance, Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Pit and the Pendulum. By the time ‘63 rolled along, King had turned 16: the time of race riots, James Dean, and, of course, JFK.
For fans of Stephen King’s work, there’s a subtle nod to Christine and the prison of Shawshank; a significant portion of the novel revolves around the fictional town of Derry – formally the stage for the sinister and insanely creepy It.
11.22.63 is a weighty beast coming in at over 700 pages. It’s been described as a slow-burner, and you’ll find no argument here. King has a tendency to over-describe, and draw attention to the mundane. In this regard the book flounders. It suffers from a sagging middle and loses itself in the period in which it is set. However, stick with 11.22.63 and you won’t be disappointed.
Kennedy and King, is there a stranger combination?