11/22/63 by Stephen King

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Hello Everybody! Long time, no blog. I have been reading a ton this year, but you’d never know it by my blog. I have been pretty absent because, frankly, I don’t have much time to write reviews. I’m going to try to be better about it, though. So, here we go.

I think it’s great to go into 11/22/63 with as few expectations as possible, but here is a very brief description:

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who is enlisted by Al, the owner of his local diner, to go through a portal to the year 1958. Al wants Jake to do what he failed to do: prevent the Kennedy Assassination. With very little preparation, Jake takes a journey through the past to change the future.

11/22/63 had been on my radar for far too long before I finally picked it up. I’ve always enjoyed Stephen King’s writing, and I love history, so this book seemed like it would be right up my alley. But still, it sat on my shelf for a couple years before I gained the courage to pick it up (it is a large book, to say the least). I read the first 500 pages slowly over a few months, mostly reading it in small snippets here and there. However, by the time I reached the final 300 pages, I couldn’t put it down.

Now, again, I don’t want to give too much about the plot away because I think it is way better to experience this book as you read it rather than go in with any preconceived ideas. So, I will remain pretty general.

The book is split into three main sections: the first is a side mission that Jake Epping embarks on—his test of whether time travel works or not, essentially; the second is what he does with his life in the past between the end of his first mission and the beginning of the “Save Kennedy” mission; and the third section is his attempt to save Kennedy.

I think this structure worked really well, and I was entertained throughout the book, but the second section seemed to waver a bit. Jake was biding his time until 1962-63 came around, and that is what it felt like. In essence, it felt like a filler. However, it was a very well written filler. The novel’s most beloved characters are born of this section. It has a ton of heart and adds emotional tension to the third section, but it did take me awhile to get through it.

One of the many things I loved about this book, which is also true of every other King novel I’ve read, is that he is a patient writer. A lot of authors want to hand you one puzzle piece at a time, but King is perfectly content to dump the puzzle on the table and watch you squirm while he slowly arranges them into the picture on the box. It can be overwhelming at first, but everything eventually finds its place. There were some things mentioned in the first 100 pages that didn’t make a significant reappearance until towards the end of the 800+ book. That is some serious restraint on his part! And it totally pays off!

Another thing you history buffs may be keen to know is how accurate the book is to history. Now, I’m no scholar and I haven’t done a ton of research into Lee Harvey Oswald, but I did do a lot of Googling while I was reading, and as far as I could tell, King didn’t waver much from the facts (as we know them). He allowed room for some of the more popular conspiracy theories to still be possibilities, which I liked. This book is about a very serious historical moment, so I like that King didn’t fictionalize it or fantasize it too much. (Because honestly, the idea that a twenty-four year old could shoot the President of the United States from a sixth story window in front of thousands of people and manage to ESCAPE THE BUILDING and evade police for a time is crazy enough. But I digress.)

Now, I’m not sure how to talk about my last critique without a few spoilers. So, for anyone who hasn’t read the book, I’ll leave you with this: Read it. The couple critiques I’m writing about here stand in the face of a mountain of praise. I loved this book. It will be one of my all time favorites forever, and has set the bar very high for any future Stephen King books I decide to pick up. I highly recommend this one.

Now, get out of here. The next section is only for those of you who have already read the book and would like to chat about the ending.

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SPOILERS BEGIN NOW

Okay, so since you are only here if you’ve already read the book, I’m going to chat about the ending.

Jake Epping saves John F Kennedy. Really, it can’t be too much of a spoiler because if there is an 800 page book about a man travelling back in time to save JFK, then you have to assume he’ll succeed. Or at least, I assumed that.

Anyway, my problem came with what happened afterward. Jake went back to the future and it was apocalyptic. Jake talked the entire book about how the past didn’t want to be changed, about how the past would protect itself. So, how was it that saving one human life was enough to send the ENTIRE WORLD into complete chaos? I just have a hard time believing that Kennedy being saved could have such far-reaching consequences, and that the past wouldn’t attempt to reset the course of history. Honestly, it felt like King was having a bit of fun with the idea and took it too far.

Now, my critique of the ending does not stop there. I also had a problem with the apocalyptic ending because it gave Jake Epping no choice but to go back and undo everything he’d done. As soon as he went back through the portal and stepped out into the barren remnant of what was once his town, I knew he was going right back to 1958. The chaos of the present day world, rather than infusing the story with tension, seemed to make it all fall flat. I knew exactly what he was going to do after that.

Here is what I wanted to happen: After Sadie was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald and Jake saved Kennedy, I wanted Jake to go back to present day and see that the world was okay. Even if things weren’t as perfect as Al thought they would be once Kennedy was saved, I wanted the present day to be pleasant, at least. Jake still would have manged to save Harry Dunning and his family, and he saved the president. However, none of that would matter in the face of losing Sadie. Call me a romantic, but I wanted Jake to go back through the rabbit hole, reset everything, and then do nothing to alter the future except go back in time, meet Sadie, and then take her back to the future with him or stay in the past with her. (I know there are a few time travel issues with this idea, but it’s still what I wanted to happen!)

This ending would have been making the point that no one person is more important than another. It didn’t matter that JFK was saved because Sadie died. And the most important moments in history are defined by each of us individually. To Jake, the greatest tragedy in the modern world would be that Sadie Dunhill died saving JFK.

Again, maybe I’m a romantic, but King’s ending left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.

But overall, even with my complaints, I still deeply enjoyed the experience of reading this book. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Happy Reading,

Mallory