Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King


Trish put me up to buying this book in Kindle format when it went on sale for $3.99. I've gotta say she scared me a bit when she said the book was getting too intense and she might need to put it in the freezer. :-) But it ended up being a great read.



This is the first Stephen King novel I've read in years. This author is really hit or miss for me. He's created some novels I loved (e.g. The Stand, The Shining, The Dead Zone) and some I really disliked (e.g. Insomnia, It). So I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I loved it -- it's now my favorite King novel. It had all the qualities I love about his work -- amazing writing skill, an imaginative plot, suspense, interesting character development, and a memorable narrative voice. And I saw none of what I've disliked about some of his books: lack of narrative focus with random excursions into disgusting or controversial crap just to keep your attention.

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who moonlights teaching adult GED prep classes. He had one GED student he'll never forget, disabled high school janitor Harry Dunning. Harry's essay, "A Day That Changed My Life," began:
It wasnt a day but a night. The night that change my life was the night my father murdirt my mother and two brothers and hurt me bad. He hurt my sister too, so bad she went into a comah. In three years she died without waking up. Her name was Ellen and I loved her very much. She love to pick flouers and put them in vayses.
Two years after Harry's essay, Jake visits his friend Al Templeton, proprietor of his favorite local diner. Al has aged uncannily in a couple of days. He also has a strange secret to share, and he wants to send Jake on a mission. If he succeeds, Jake may be able to prevent the horrific event that shattered Harry's life and avert another local tragedy. But his ultimate goal is much broader in scope -- he wants to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Al has studied his history carefully. He believes that preventing Kennedy's death may have a domino effect, averting other events including the murder of Martin Luther King and the U.S. war in Vietnam.



Soon Jake travels through a wormhole in time, carrying Al's historical notes, and assumes a new identity: George Amberson. During his five-year odyssey, he stalks Lee Harvey Oswald, affects people's lives, and falls in love. But the past is obdurate (we hear that line almost ad nauseum, actually) -- there are forces actively fighting George's attempts to change history. And in the back of his mind, he wonders about the potential effect of his actions on the future. When he returns to 2011, will he find a world that's been altered in unexpected ways?

Despite my ambivalent relationship with Stephen King, this book was an easy sell with me. Time travel? Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff? Alternate history? Yes please!



Stephen King did a copious amount of research on the late 1950s and early 1960s, and his attention to historical detail makes the alternate history believable and fascinating. I was even more impressed with his meticulous attention to small details about popular culture, everyday life in that period, and the zeitgeist of the era. He created a vibrant sense of time and place, making it easy to become absorbed in George Amberson's world.

I thoroughly enjoyed living inside this character's head for a while -- he's smart, funny, compassionate, and flawed. The growing conflict between his dedication to his mission and his growing affection for the people of Jodie, Texas in the early 1960s -- along with his blossoming romance with a beautiful high school librarian -- created a compelling story. The secondary characters -- including Harry, Al, Mimi, Deke, Mike, and Sadie -- are well developed and quickly earned my affection. And while this isn't a horror story per se, there were a few of the mysterious, surreal, dark touches -- like the Yellow Card Man and "Jimla" --  that I see as being among King's trademarks.

These facets of the novel, along with the suspenseful twists in the plot, made this book damn hard to put down. And I've actually missed the company of these characters since I finished the book. That's probably one of the highest compliments I can give a novel.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Other Reviews of 11/22/63: Love, Laughter, & a Touch of Insanity; Book Chatter; Fizzy Thoughts; Leeswammes' Blog; Did I Miss Yours?

Upcoming Reviews on this Blog: Pan's Labyrinth; Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

20 comments:

  1. I've never even heard of this novel before but I generally like time travel. I wonder if (or when) they'll adapt this for the big screen. You actually missed the company of these characters since I finished the book?? Wow, that is quite a compliment!

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    1. I think I read that Jonathan Demme planned to adapt this movie to film then changed his mind. In the right hands, this would make a terrific movie.

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  2. I would have read this already had it not been for my father-in-law!!! Damn, actual books.

    Anyway, in my book, you have lost your mind!!! A King book better than The Stand! Impossible!!!

    And just to pat myself on the back, I read that book in 7th grade. I look at my 7th graders and I want to cry.

    Great review, though. I thought I was going to have to skim, but you kept it brief, yet compelling. Nice!

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    1. Well, I lost my mind years ago.

      11/22/63 edged out The Stand for me, but just by a hair and largely because of my love of time travel and history.

      I take it your 7th graders aren't reading terrific books like The Stand? What are they reading? ;-)

      Thanks for your kind words! :-)

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  3. I've never read King before, but I'm really intrigued by this book. The characters sound wonderful. :)

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    1. King has a knack for writing good characters. If you decide to give this book a go, I hope you enjoy it.

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  4. I don't know why I haven't read this yet, or what I'm waiting for! I'll get to it one of these days :)

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  5. Wooooooo. I'm SO relieved to hear that you loved this one!! Scott felt kind of "meh" about it when he read it shortly after me so then I started getting paranoid that I had oversold it.

    And the freezer. The fight scene at the arena and then the events that happened afterwards? That's what I was referring to. Definitely not scary--just intense. ;) Jimla did give me the creeps though and there were a few times when I wasn't sure if I should be listening alone at home. But like you I loved being in Jake's head. Such a wonderful narrator.

    Yay!

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    1. He was a wonderful narrator! Thanks for pushing me off the fence on buying and reading this book. ;-)

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  6. Glad you loved it. I have this one and I just have not made time for it. I love that about King, he makes the reader miss the characters once the book is over.

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    1. I'm glad you feel that way about King's characters too, Naida. :)

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  7. ooh...you beat me to it!
    I still haven't bought the book because I am still waiting for a cheaper prize ;)

    Stephen King is a hit or miss for you...but he is always a hit for me. I love his books. I am currently reading Firestarter (I am a bit bored with The War of The World, so I stopped that one and read King and the get back to it again). King's book always helped me through reading boredom.

    Anyway, I didn't read the whole review (afraid of spoiler even slight spoiler). I am glad you like it....many who is not even King's fans had also said that.

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    1. I remember liking Firestarter. Actually I liked virtually all King's early books; it was only later that they became hit or miss for me. I'll be curious to see what you think of 11/22/63 -- it's quite different from his other work.

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  8. Interesting. I'd heard of the book but it seems like it's far different than I had assumed. May have to reconsider my lack of interest in reading it.

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    1. I'd love to hear what you think of this novel, Kristen.

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  9. I'm a huge fan of Stephen King's old work, read most of it many years ago and I bought this one not long after it came out but it's sitting in my bookcase, unread. My reading has slowed to snails pace and I don't feel like tackling a chunkster. One of these days I'll bite the bullet lol

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    1. King's old work was my favorite too. In the late late 80s, he really became hit or miss for me.

      I know what you mean about reading going slowly and avoiding chunksters. My reading pace -- and my interest in long books -- ebbs and flows these days.

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  10. This was SOOOO good!!! I read it in 2 days. And I agree … the research seemed fabulous. And I loved that it wasn't just about the JFK assassination. This made me excited about King again.

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    1. I'm glad you loved this, Jenners. Two days! WOW! It took me a long while to get through it.

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