“I'm one of those people who doesn't really know what he thinks until he writes it down.”
I can relate to that, can't you?
Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.
Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.
It’s a simple enough premise – Al, the dying owner of a diner, enlists his friend Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, to go back in time and prevent Kennedy’s assassination. Something in the pantry in Al’s diner allows anyone going down the steps to step into a different world – that of 1958’s America. It’s insane – and yet it’s real, as Jake quickly realises after Al practically shoves him through the ripple in time. The world of 1958 is as real, as tangible as Jake’s 2011. But how does it all work? Jake decides to test Al’s explanation, and in so doing hits the brick wall that is time itself. You see, time does not like to be pushed around by the occasional time traveller. Time is obdurate.
To make it up to him, I do feel like causality or fate or what-have-you does offer the occasional aid when Jake’s back is against the wall. Thus we get an It-inspired cameo early on, several callbacks to the greater King universe and numerous pages of psychological trauma to rummage through with my psychiatrist.
What does 11/22/63 do right? Character development, plot progression, dialogue (oh, that King dialogue gave me all the Dark Tower goosebumps), romance, time travel and all the consequences that come with it. Not only does he do all these elements right, King excels at each and every one of them. I could go on and on and on about the characters – and some of them are familiar to a reader of King’s work but with their unique twists and turns – but to do so would be to rob you, dear reader, of getting acquainted with them the same way I did, without a single clue.
What does it do wrong?
That’s the thing. Just about nothing.
Stephen King’s 11/22/63 receives my personal stamp of recommendation along with
You should read this if:
Rating: 4/5 stars
To think something so dark and depressing could come out of a premise so simple.