Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

This is an awesome book.  No superlatives can do it justice.  It’s one of the best novels I have read in years.

I haven’t read many of Stephen King’s books – in fact, only one other:  “On Writing”, which I have read and reread and consider one of the best books on writing ever.  But as far as his novels are concerned, I have been content to watch the films.  The subject matter has not always been my cup of tea as far as reading is concerned, and as for the stories that really caught my attention, “The Stand” and “Firestarter” for example, I figured that the gist was adequately captured in the movie version and have had no desire to check out the original.  For one thing, King’s books are generally quite long, the type of length I prefer to tackle in the summer when I have more time to read.

But this one was different.  The plot intrigued me.  Having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I am always eager to read anything decent set in that era.  But even more, the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a seminal moment in history.  I vividly remember when and where I first heard he had been shot.  I was ten years old and in the classroom of the Catholic elementary school I attended.  The Mother Superior came into the room – I will never forget her sober expression – and informed us that the president had just been shot.  I only recall bits and pieces of that part of my life, but that particular bit stuck with me.  What was Kennedy to me at the time?  Not much; I was just a kid.  But the legend grew over the years.

Stephen King postulates a sort of portal through which the protagonist, Jake Epping, can venture back to 1958.  Every time he goes through he always arrives at the same time and the same place and history has rebooted itself.  The man who discovered the portal, who is dying of cancer, persuades Epping to go back in time, wait around until 1963, and somehow prevent Kennedy’s assassination.  King tells the story of the man’s long journey from 1958 to 1963 with nostalgic detail.  There is a romance as well; as Epping bides his time in Texas waiting for an opportunity to stop Lee Oswald he falls in love with a small town librarian, who gets caught up in his quest.

I don’t want to give too much away because it is a joy to discover all the surprises as the plot unfolds.  King takes it step by step but each step of the way throws another curveball, unveils another enigma.  I used to think, without having read him, that Stephen King must be some kind of hack writer with rudimentary prose – I was so wrong.  He is a stylist of the first order, and even waxes downright poetic at times.

As I said, this is one of the best novels I have read in years.  It is well worth the time it takes to get through it.  My edition, the British edition, was about 750 pages; as I understand, the American edition is about 100 pages more – probably because the page size is smaller.  Be that as it may, every page is fascinating, and at no time is the reading of such a long work a drudgery.  As a matter of fact, when it was over I was disappointed that the end of the experience had arrived.  Check it out.  You won’t regret it.

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