Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: Stephen King’s 11/22/63

A belated Happy New Years, first of all.

I received 11/22/63 as a birthday present last August.  As I was just finishing off  The Company of the Dead (see the review) I put it aside and made it next on my list to read for this blog. With breaks for moving across the continent, job searching, finding a new place to live and oh yes – reading and reviewing Lavie Tidhar’s admirable Osama: A Novel, I can now report that I have just finished reading Mr. King’s magnum opus on the subject of time travel, the JFK assassination and the butterfly effect.

The first thing I will say, if you have not read this book already – read it. Buy it, even. You are missing a great reading experience.  At over 800 pages it is an immersive experience for both narrator and reader was we go back in time via “rabbit hole” to the world of the past. By “immersive,” I mean immersive. You literally taste and smell the world around you. King’s background research is first-rate into both the era and the subject matter at hand is nothing short of impressive.

A schoolteacher, Jake Epping is given a key to such a “rabbit hole” in time by a close friend with one proviso: he has to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK.  Aye, and there’s the rub: for all of his extensive research, King has firmly come down on the side of the “lone gunman” theory – that Oswald, history’s greatest fuckup and self-professed patsy – could’ve pulled this off just by his little old self.  If you’re one of the many out there like me who believes at some level that there could’ve been a conspiracy you may find this vaguely unsatisfying as King connects the dots.

Lee Harvey Oswald: Patsy or Lone Nut with a Gun?
In the interests of full disclosure, let me say that I was only a few months past my first birthday the day John F. Kennedy died. So my connection to Camelot is somewhat tenuous at best. I grew up however, sharing that sense of collective loss and outrage mixed with disbelief that one man, however deranged and however lucky a shot, could’ve been responsible for changing the course of history.  Or, if you prefer the argument of King, things worked out exactly the way they should’ve.

I can’t help upon reflecting upon King’s central thesis of the place of the “lone nut with the gun” in society. Unfortunately, recent U.S. history – you can supply the places and dates –has been marked with examples of what one deranged man with a gun can do, so perhaps the Kennedy assassination is just one in a series of very lamentable incidents.

But I digress.

So with his friend’s blessing, narrator Jake goes off into the World of the Past. He gets involved in a few events that are a prelude to the main event, that only serve to give him confidence and help build him as a character.  I had thought at one point this was getting in the way of the main action, but now I see King’s wisdom in his plotting his book this way. Well done. Once this is done, events assume their own pace and chug along nicely until the inevitable and suspenseful climax.

If you’re looking for a book that is by turns well-written, fun, immersive (there’s that word again) well-researched and full of plausible speculative fiction at its best, then Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is the book for you. Enjoy.

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing both Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 (both are free to preview). Both books are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  And if you’re looking for an experienced marketing communications guy, do me a favor and have a look here. Thanks.