I think the last Stephen King book I read was either the final volume of The Dark Tower or Under the Dome, whenever they came out. It’s been a while since I’ve read King, but he’s always been one of my favorite authors, ever since I cracked open Christine way back in middle school. After a long binge of epic fantasy books, I decided it was time for something different, so I grabbed the e-book of 11/22/63, which I just finished last night.
There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, and it’s usually referred to as “The Kennedy Book.” I love conspiracy stories, especially when they’re rooted in some sort of reality, and that’s what initially drove me to check this book out. The initial conceit is that an ordinary guy living in Maine (of course) is given the chance to go back in time to save JFK from the assassin’s bullets. Once I was well into it, I realized the Kennedy angle is only a fraction of what the book really is about. It’s a novel that is pretty neatly divided into three discrete but intertwined threads.
The first and most readily awesome is that it’s an intriguing time travel story. Actual time jumping does occur early and often, and in both directions. No time travel stories really make much sense if you stop to consider the physics and implications, but Stephen King does a good job of making us forget about that kind of stuff. In fact, he goes to great lengths to establish specific rules for his time travel model, and in the afterword acknowledges his son, comic writer Joe Hill, for working out some of the time travel kinks for him. In the end, the time travel in this book is more satisfying than most of Doctor Who’s wibbly wobbly timey wimey.
The second thread winding through 11/22/63 is a star crossed love story. Stephen King has said he’s no good at writing romance, but he proved himself wrong with this one. The love story in this novel is a very unique one that ends up being engaging and believable despite some predictability (which I see more as inevitability when it’s coupled with the time travel). The book sometimes feels a bit overlong at 849 pages, but the length allows King to build a town full of real characters that we grow to know and love as the infamous date in 1963 draws near.
The third component of the book is tightly detailed historical fiction tracing the minutiae of the lives of Lee Harvey Oswald, his family, and his acquaintances in the months and years leading up to the killing of John Kennedy. It’s obvious that a ton of research went into this thing, and I actually feel like I learned a lot about the era and circumstances surrounding the assassination. King definitely embellishes and extrapolates many of Oswald’s movements and encounters, but by and large he seems to get the broad strokes right.
Time travel, romance, and historical fiction have been combined countless times in the past, but there’s no denying that this is a Stephen King book. The tone and style of the prose are undeniably King, but even beyond that 11/22/63 is firmly rooted in King’s larger literary universe. I won’t spoil anything with specifics, but I managed to spot references that tie this book into It, Christine, The Running Man, The Shawshank Redemption, Under the Dome, and of course The Dark Tower. There’s a lot of subtle numerology stuff as well, if you know to look for 19s in Stephen King’s books.
11/22/63 is in many ways a different animal than Stephen King has tackled before, but in just as many ways it fits perfectly on his bibliography. If you’re into King, have an interest in the Kennedy assassination, or like well designed and compelling time travel fiction, this is a great book to pick up. I gave it five stars on GoodReads, and that’s a rarity for me.
Amazon Link: 11/22/63 by Stephen King