11/22/63; a review

11/22/63 by Stephen King

 Book One of 2018

“To the loving eye, even small pox scars are beautiful.” – One of my favorite quotes from 11/22/63. (I’m such a romantic).

Have you ever read a book so powerful that, upon finishing, you can’t utter an articulate sentence when describing its impact? A book that, while you are reading it, you sigh in amazement at the mastery of the writing and the storytelling?

That’s the way I felt about 11/22/63,  the 60th book published by Stephen King.  I think that’s why it took me so long to publish this post. I’m sure you’ve heard of it: 11/22/63 is a fictionalized take on the Kennedy assassination and the years leading up to it, complete with romance, time travel and a history lesson. (A BIG thanks to my friend Dave who suggested I dive into this novel immediately).

 ***

11/22/63 took me on an emotional journey; the story shook me to my core. King’s main characters made me laugh, they made me cry, and the story spun my mind in wonder. I was constantly entertained.

The novel offers a glimpse into a ‘simpler time’ (for the traditional white male like the main character, at least), but King peels back the ‘Pleasantville’ vibe of the era and exposes both the positive and the negative elements associated with living in the 1960’s. Upon reading the first few chapters, I was quickly reminded of how far we have come as a society.

Let me give a brief synopsis: The protagonist, Jake Epping, quickly learns that he can time travel, and heads back in time to do two things: stop his friend’s father from murdering his family in the late 1950’s, and to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. The diner owner who lets Jake in on his time travel secret insists that stopping Kennedy’s assassination will change the world for the better, and he makes a compelling argument. However, there are two massive issues with the form of time travel in 11/22/63 for the protagonist: Whenever Jake heads back to present day to see the results of what he has gone in and changed in the past, any time he head backs in time again, everything he has done is reset. That, and the fact that Jake has no idea what the domino effect of stopping Kennedy’s assassination will do to present-day society. Jake has to spend years in the past to even attempt stopping the Kennedy murder since every time he steps foot into the past, the same day in 1958 resets all over again.

(Note: It’s a bit difficult to explain the time travel bit in a single paragraph. Are you still with me? I hope so, because this story is worth sinking your teeth into).

The writing takes us on Jake’s adventures as a high school teacher back in the late 50’s and early 1960’s, but Jake’s attempts at changing the past prove difficult: “The past harmonizes,” he often reminds himself. In his new life in the past, there are roadblocks and constant barriers in the form of brutal violence and a complex web of lies. The poetic justice? The unforgettable, rewarding relationships and experiences he endures. Jake is set on living his life in the past for a handful of years, but he never expected to make friends, experience loss, or to fall in love. On that note, enter Sadie Dunhill, the librarian at the high school Jake teaches at. Their love story is beautiful, gripping, and plaintive… and that’s all I will say about it, since I want you to read it for yourself.

As a reader, it was so fascinating for me to understand the amount of research that went into not only the Kennedy assassination itself and all of the conspiracy theories around it, but also the reflection of the 1960’s and what it would have been like to live during that time. As someone who was born in the 80’s, I don’t have first-hand experience living in the southern united states at that time, but King outlines it perfectly.

The written words in 11/22/63 are filled with poignancy and anticipation, and they offer an adrenaline rush at every turn. It’s no wonder it was made into a TV miniseries.  Admittedly, I kept my review short and sweet for such a complex, lengthy novel. This is because when I read a book this good, I often prefer to dangle the carrot and then let the book do the talking. Please pick up this novel, no matter the type of genre you like reading. The 11/22/63 story has everything you could ask for in a story and will leave you feeling wistful, contemplative and inspired for weeks to come.

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