“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 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.