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11/22/63 by Stephen King

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

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3 thoughts on “11/22/63 by Stephen King

  1. Great review. 🙂

    I’ve got this book on my shelf waiting to be read, and it may be a while until I get round to it because my tbr pile is so large! One thing that is slightly putting me off though……I am very interested in History but I know next to nothing about Kennedy or much about the history of America in general. Would you say it would be possible to enjoy this book even with no background knowledge? Or would it be best for me to do some digging first? I will usually read around the topic of the book after reading if it interested me, but maybe in this case it would be better to do it in reverse?

  2. That’s a very good question, and probably one that I should have thought about more as I was reading 😛 It would probably help to know some basic information about the assassination, like the date (it’s the title of the book, lol), the location, and the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald is commonly believed to be the assassin. I would also look up a list of important events in 1960’s America (like the Vietnam War and the assassination of RFK) because the main character believes Kennedy could have avoided those problems if he had survived.

    Also, as I say above, the assassination story is not nearly as interesting to me as the romantic subplot in the book, so the book isn’t only about history. I found myself preferring the fictional parts, actually.

    • Really? That’s very interesting…
      Thank you for answering, I will definitely make a note of this somewhere. 🙂
      I know a little about the assasination, but only a very little 😛
      Also – no worries about not including it in your review, I know it’s very difficult to think of everything when your sitting there staring at a blank page!

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