“11/22/63”, by Stephen King

“11/22/63” is a fascinating tale about an ordinary man who is asked to do an extraordinary thing – travel back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Jake Epping is an English teacher in Maine whose acquaintance, Al Templeton, has discovered that he has a portal in the storage room of his diner that allows him to travel back in time. The portal always takes him back to the exact place and time in 1958. Al has used the portal frequently to buy cheap hamburger meat for his diner. For his final trip, Al gets much more ambitious and decides to stop the 51gir4MU+2L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_assassination of JFK, an effort that will require him to live in the past for five years since the assassination doesn’t happen until 1963. But Al becomes sick with cancer and can’t complete his mission. So he recruits Jake.

It wasn’t completely clear to me why Jake accepted this mission and the huge personal sacrifice it would require. Maybe it was because he was jaded about his job and his failed marriage and looking for something meaningful to do. Or maybe it was because he was a good guy and he truly thought that saving JFK would prevent some of the subsequent events like the escalation of the war in Vietnam.

Regardless of his motives, Jake undertakes a five year journey through America of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Stephen King both celebrates this time and also exposes some of its ugly warts. He deftly creates some settings that are filled with menace and others that rival Mayberry RFD. He does the same with his characters. Jake encounters some extremely unsavory characters, but he also makes some good friends and even falls in love. Jake, himself, undergoes a significant transformation as he learns how to survive in this unfamiliar world. He’s a likable guy, which is fortunate since the book is told from his point of view.

I really liked this book. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but this is the first Stephen King novel I’ve ever read. Most of his stuff is too creepy for me, but I’ve been curious about him so I was glad when I came across this non-creepy novel. Now I understand what all the hype is about. The man can spin a tale!

The only caution I would give about this book is that it’s very, very long. I know I risk sounding ignorant with this comment. I remember a scene in the movie “Amadeus” in which one of Mozart’s critics says something silly like “it has too many notes” when criticizing one of his symphonies. I’m not saying the book has too many words. Every scene serves its purpose. I’m just saying that when you start this book, be prepared to embark on a long term relationship with it. It’s worth the investment.

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your comments. I’m also looking for recommendations of other non-creepy Stephen King books.

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20 thoughts on ““11/22/63”, by Stephen King

  1. I love “11/22/63” (the novel actually made me wish the “town” of Jodie and all its habitants truly existed). I have read the book several times, which is interesting because I don’t like the creepy genre King usually sticks to (such as “The Shining”). But I have to agree with Tom that “The Stand” is also awesome: it contains some scary concepts, but presents many compelling, memorable characters–both good and bad.
    Tabitha King, Stephen’s wife, is another fine novelist who probably gets a little lost in the long shadow cast by her husband. Years ago I read a novel of hers about a high-school hockey player that was really great. I need to hop on Amazon and get the title…

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    • Thanks for commenting, Diane. I had that same reaction to Jodie – seems like my kind of town! I just noticed that they made a miniseries of the book. Unfortunately, they cast James Franco as Jake. I may try to watch it anyway just for the heck of it.

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  2. Thanks for this review. I have to admit that I read my first Stephen King novel last year and it definitely wasn’t my thing! I have a friend who loves his work and has read most of his novels. She told me to give him another try and read the book you just reviewed. It was one of her favorites. Now that you’ve given it a positive recommendation I’ll have to give him another try!

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  3. Man, you finished this SOOOOOO fast! I need to get back to this bad boy and finish it up so I can add a more intelligent comment.

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  4. My boys read a lot of S King but, like you, I thought it was too creepy. After reading your review, I’ve decided to order it. Thanks!

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  5. I have read a lot of King but not this one, will add it to my list. I was overwhelmed by the length of his Under the Dome and had to see some good reviews before I embarked on that time investment. Plus we were watching the TV show which was quite different than the book.

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  6. After switching from Kindle to Audible, I am making progress and am now about halfway through the book. I still enjoy it, but occasionally I am distracted by the dialog that just doesn’t match life in the early 60s. One recent example was when the crowd gave Of Mice and Men a standing ovation and the school QB yelled “you rock!” Did anyone else feel the same way?

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  7. In my teens and twenties, I read many Stephen King books. As a matter of fact, I looked forward to every Christmas knowing his latest novel was usually one of the gifts I would receive from Mom and Dad. However, after the Tommyknockers, I stopped reading his books for many years, they just got a little too strange even for this long time fan. Then last year, 11/22/63 caught my eye on Amazon and I downloaded it to my Kindle. I loved it! He does know how to spin a good tale, develop interesting characters and keep you turning the pages. I’ve been meaning to go back and take a look at some of his other more recent works. Perhaps I’ve missed others that I might enjoy, I’ll let you know what I find!

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  8. A day after the anniversary of JFK’s death, I am *STILL* reading the book titled with the 11/22/63 date. I am -> <- this close to just pulling up Wikipedia and reading how it ends…

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  9. After what felt like decades, I finally finished this book. It was good, but holy cow, couldn’t the story be told just as well in half the words?!?

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  10. After what felt like decades, I finally finished this book. It was good, but holy cow, couldn’t the story be told just as well in half the words?!?

    PS On to the latest Stephanie Plum novel…

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  11. I loved this book–I’m a sucker for anything about time travel. I have read quite a bit of early Stephen King (the creepy stuff) but hadn’t read him for a long time until this came out. I know it was long but it didn’t seem like it; it went really fast for me. The author that King dedicated the book to (or possibly made mention of), Jack Finney, wrote my favorite time travel book, actually possibly my favorite book. It is clever on so many levels. The title is Time and Again and I really recommend it!

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    • I also enjoyed this book and I LOVE Time and Again. I even taught a class in time travel so I could use it. Written in the ’70s but not dated at all.

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