Review Time: Stephen King- 11/22/63

Sometimes you pick a book based on a review. Sometimes you pick a book based on the author. Sometimes you pick a book based on the cover (although, apparently this makes you a bad person).

But sometimes you pick a book because its 840 pages and you have to be on a plane/ in an airport for 2 days.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I read Stephen Kings’ 11/22/63.

Jack Epping is a divorced 30-something in a small town, living a rather nondescript life. Teaches high school by day, teaches adult literacy at night and frequents the local greasy diner in-between. Until one day, when his friend and local diner owner, Al Templeton, looking 8 years older than he did the day before, approaches him with a rather shocking bit of news: The storeroom of the diner allows him to go back in time. Not to any time, mind you, to 11:58 a.m. on September 9th, 1958 only. And this is a portal with some rules:

You can go to 1958, make all the changes you like, and come back to 2015. BUT, if you then go Back to 1958 another time, everything is reset to the way it was before. Also, when you visit 1958, no matter how long you stay there, only 2 minutes have passed when you return to 2015.

Understandably, Jack is skeptical at first, but after a quick jaunt to the past for the best darn root beer float he ever had, Al reveals the real reason he has shared the portal with Jack. After much research, Al has determined that the death of JFK was a “watershed moment”. A watershed moment is a moment in time that if changed, has a massive effect on all subsequent events. His rationale (abbreviated) is this: If JFK had lived, America would not have entered the Vietnam war (because JFK was far more war-adverse than Lyndon Johnson, among other reasons). If America had not engaged with Vietnam, then the public would not have had as much reason to distrust the government, the civil rights movement may have achieved its aims without violence, Martin Luther King would have lived, etc, etc, all leading to a better world for you and me.

So Al has been plotting to stop the assassination of JFK, by Killing Lee Harvey Oswald. However, the past is resistant to change, and Al will succumb to lung cancer before achieving his goal. Jack must use the portal and continue this quest.

What ensues is a gripping, action- filled book. Jack ends up building a life for himself in the years between 1958 and 1963, and it isn’t entirely clear if he SHOULD stop this assassination for a number of reasons. Ethically, this is a little grey- he would have to kill Oswald, who has done nothing wrong up until this point, IF he was the sole killer at all. Also, the concept of a watershed moment is itself fraught with debate- it is strongly believed by some that there may be a divine being that will force certain events one way or another, regardless of a single change. And of course, there’s the impact that frequenting the past has on our fragile space-time continuum.

11/22/63 was entertaining, thought-provoking (thoughts like: if I was in 1958, I would buy stocks and also go to the opening of the very first IHOP) and intelligently written. Basically, if you liked Back  to the Future (and who didn’t?), you should give this book a try.

And as a note: I think that Stephen King gets a bad rap sometimes amongst bibliophiles. Yes, his books are widely appreciated and mass-consumed. Okay, he clearly is a well oiled machine who pumps out literature, factory- style.  Yes, his books are clearly written with the intent of being made into movies ( I think his last one actually had a stage note..). But come on, The Green Mile? Fantastic. Under the Dome? If you ignore the last chapter, great!

At any rate, I really enjoyed 11/22/63, and I would have enjoyed it, even if I wasn’t trapped in a metal tube hurtling through the air.