Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Good writers are also readers. I firmly believe this. I think that it's just as important to make time for reading every week as it is to make time for writing. The more you read, the better of a writer you become. You start to notice the little quirks and nuances about other writers that either drive you crazy or make you fall in love with their style. If you've read Stephen King's book, On Writing, you'll remember that reading is an important thing to the Master of Horror. Because I enjoy Mr. King's work, I decided to follow his good example and read his latest novel, 11/22/63.
It's 900 pages. 900! I'm one of the fastest readers I know, but it took me three days to get my Kindle to show that I was even 50% done. 900 freakin' pages...Again, referring to On Writing by Mr. King, I seem to recall one of his mantras to be "Cut unnecessary words."
Well, despite the 900 pages, I have to say that this might be one of my favorite King novels to date. Yes, he could have cut a few words here and there, trimmed up the fat, but I didn't really feel that the pace of the novel was too slow. As always, Mr. King is a master storyteller, weaving magic with his characters and taking on the JFK assassination.
For those expecting a horror tale, you're out of luck (although there are some psycho creepy moments). This is a historical fiction with science fiction elements in the form of time travel. The basic premise is this: Jake is an English teacher who teaches adult education classes in the evenings. After school, he occasionally stops by the diner across the street, which is run by a guy named Al. Al has a big secret he wants to share with Jake. Turns out he has a time loop in his diner's pantry. If you enter it, you end up in 1958. Apparently, Al has been making quite a few trips to the past, but whenever he returns to 2011, only two minutes have gone by. Every time he goes through the time slip, it's always the same day, same time, same starting location in 1958. Al has become obsessed with the idea of living in the past with the hopes of making it to 1963 so that he can stop the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald. Unfortunately, he has cancer and is too ill to accomplish the goal. He wants Jake to continue the mission
Jake is hesitant to take on the task. After all, what about the butterfly effect? What will happen if history is altered? Can it be altered? Does he have the guts to kill Oswald? Al assures Jake that the great thing about changing history is that if it doesn't work out or things go wrong, one can always go back through the time slip in the pantry and effectively restart the whole loop. After a few test runs where Jake attempts to save the family of one of his adult students whose life was drastically altered in 1958, he agrees to live in the past long enough to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy in Dallas.
Of course, he hasn't counted on a few complications. Like falling in love. Or becoming part of a community. Or the fact that something in the past doesn't want the future to be changed and will fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening--even if it means killing those near and dear to Jake.
Cue the dramatic music please!
I love the idea of time travel, and this book does a great job exploring the concept with all its pros and cons. So many people wonder about JFK and what would have happened if he'd lived. That being said, anyone with a basic understanding of the "rules" of time travel will have a pretty good idea of how this whole business will go down.
One of the interesting things about this story is that it revisits the fictional town of Derry, Maine. If you are a fan of the novel It, part of this tale occurs right after the end of the child murders in that book. And of course, if you are a believer that Oswald acted alone, then you'll be intrigued by the second half of the book which takes place in Dallas, Fort Worth, and a little town named Jody.
We know a great deal already about the events that occurred in Dallas that day in 1963, but King explores the subculture of the area and paints a gritty, racist picture of the city in the 1960s. I suspect he wasn't too far off the mark. He includes a lot of things that native Texans would appreciate and find familiar. Of course, that can have its drawbacks, too. One flaw I found which really bugged me was his reference of the slogan "Don't Mess with Texas." That didn't become a part of Texas culture until the 1980's. Still, it's a small thing in the overall scheme of things!
All in all, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others. Make sure you have ample time to sit down and absorb the story.