Today’s review is about Stephen King’s recent book, 11/22/63. The book tells the story of Jake Epping, a schoolteacher who discovers a portal that takes him to the year 1958. He chooses to stay in that time period so he can try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, believing that the world would be better if J.F.K. survived. While the premise is not entirely unique (many other books and films have used the same idea), I found that the real heart of the book is not in the Kennedy story, but in a romantic subplot that begins near the middle of the book. Jake dates a woman from the past named Sadie, who creates further obstacles in Jake’s plan. As the book progressed, I found myself caring more about their budding relationship than the assassination plot, which is a testament to the strength of the two characters.
King describes 1950s and 60s America with great detail throughout the book. In certain scenes, he compares the time period to the present day, highlighting the changes that have occurred in the decades between. Jake thinks about the inexpensive products in the 50s, and admires the solitude of a country without cell phones. I’m not old enough to have experienced the culture King describes, so I can’t comment on the story’s accuracy, but I feel like the book made me nostalgic for a time long gone.
The concept of time travel is used a lot in science fiction, but it remains one of my favourite narrative devices. My favourite movie of all time is Back to the Future, and I was always fond of that film’s use of time travel as a way to better understand the world. In the movie, Marty travels back thirty years and sees the differences in the culture, but ultimately discovers that people are the same regardless of the year. Jake Epping comes to a similar realization in 11/22/63, because King describes both the positive and negative aspects of 1950s culture. King does not glorify the time period, which makes the portrayal seem more realistic.
In terms of style, I have noticed that King is usually very clever but occasionally goes overboard, making a text awkward or campy. Luckily, 11/22/63 includes very few instances where I was taken out of the story, compared to his other books. He says in the afterword that he did a lot of research for the novel, which is rare for him, so maybe the facts of the assassination helped to restrain him in that regard. King is in top form here, and the book is an improvement over his other recent work, Under the Dome. Squeamish readers should know that King usually includes several scenes in each of his books where he describes violence or gore, often in great detail or with colourful metaphors.
When I first heard about 11/22/63, I knew I had to read it. I have been a fan of Stephen King for years and I wanted to see how he would handle time travel. By the novel’s end, it had become my new favourite book by King, but not for the time travel alone; the characters and story were deep and engaging, while King’s writing was the best it’s ever been.
5 out of 5