Disclaimer: I am a total Stephen King fan girl. Not to the point where I believe he can do no wrong, but I have read (and enjoyed) most of his work. If a new Stephen King book comes out, I’m going to buy it. I’ll read it and enjoy it and be inspired to get to work on my own writing. Mr. King has inspired me since the first time I read one of his author’s notes.
Spoiler alert!!! I don’t say anything here that wasn’t spelled out in any review or interview, but if you really want to take this ride with no idea of what’s ahead, don’t read this post.
11/22/63 is King’s latest work, about a man, Jake, who finds a time portal which takes him back to 1958. He goes, with a list of things to change, most importantly, the Kennedy assassination. On the way, he visits a town in Maine familiar to any Stephen King fan. There are bumps in the road, lots of them, bullies who (as usual in the Kingiverse) get what they justly deserve, and good people who find pain and trouble, because that’s the way life is. A lot can, and does happen between 1958 and 1963. It would be hard not to make a life in that time, to develop relationships. Just supporting oneself can be a challenge, especially with no work history before say, 1980.
In order for this story to work, you have to agree with the lone gunman theory. I don’t. But in the interest of reading pleasure, I suspended my disbelief for a while.
Mr. King paints Oswald as a sneaky, disillusioned loser who killed President Kennedy so that he would finally be recognized as… what? Someone important? Then the plan was to immigrate to Cuba. We sympathize with Marina Oswald, brought to America to live in squalid conditions. King shows us the people from that time, the good, the bad and definitely the ugly. It’s quite a ride. He knows we’ll follow because he knows what we expect. It’s a common belief that if John Kennedy had lived, the Viet Nam war would’ve never happened. Bobby Kennedy would’ve lived, and probably Martin Luther King Jr. as well. What a different world it would be! We imagine the best.
Stephen King, being who he is, imagines the worst. Our hero Jake returns to the present, but it’s a nightmare. Everything that could possibly go wrong, did. And this is where my literary hero loses me. I can buy the world not achieving the utopia we imagine. I can believe the space time continuum if you will, would start to crumble under all those drastic changes. It is a supernatural story after all. There will be supernatural consequences. However, I can’t believe that humanity would rip itself apart the way King says it did in the alternate time line. He goes too far.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I was emotionally invested in all of the players and stayed up late several nights just to read what happened next. King waxes poetic on occasion, sounding a bit like one of my other literary heroes, Kurt Vonnegut. Here’s my favorite bit:
“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.” — Stephen King
4 stars out of 5