Well, I did it – I finished reading “11/22/63”, all 849 pages of it. Having a nasty virus that has forced me to spend a lot of time lying about, I could read for hours uninterrupted. In a mere three days, I went from the first page to the very last page.
This is the first Stephen King novel I have ever read. He is mostly known for writing horror, which I simply do not read. (There’s enough horrifying events in life without reading fictionalized tales of it.) But this book is a departure from his usual style. It’s alternative-history fiction. The story centers around the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, and this question: What would you do if you had the chance to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting the president?
The book begins in 2011, with a high school English teacher named Jake Epping, who also helps adults get their GED certificate. When he asks his students to write a paper telling about an event that was life-changing for them, one student (the custodian) stuns him by writing about the day his father killed his mother and siblings. Jake’s heart breaks for the man, but he can do nothing for him, except help get his high school diploma. Or can he?
One day Jake’s friend Al, who owns the local diner, lets him in on a secret: Al has discovered a rabbit-hole in the back of the pantry that allows him to step back in time, to 1958. He has visited the past multiple times, but it always brings him to the same time and place in 1958. Al thinks if he could stay in the past for five years, maybe he could do something to stop President Kennedy from being assassinated. When Al learns he has cancer, it becomes obvious he won’t be able to carry out the plan, so he passes the idea along to Jake, who is willing to try.
But five years is a long time, and while he’s waiting, Jake figures he can correct some other wrongs. First on his list is seeing if he can save the custodian’s family from death. So Jake enters 1958 with some cash, knowledge of the future, and a new identity as George Amberson. He finds a town to live in, gets a job, makes friends, falls in love, and is happy as a clam in the 1950’s. But he always keeps in mind the original mission.
If you’ve ever wondered what Lee Oswald was like as a person before committing his heinous crime, this gives an excellent picture. King’s research and portrayal of Oswald’s wife Marina, and their turbulent life in a poor neighborhood was also enlightening. The factual characters blended together perfectly with the fictional characters.
The book did contain a fair amount of language that many would find offensive. I would have loved to read an edited version of the story with less vulgarity. To me, cursing generally adds nothing to the storyline. But that aside, this was an imaginative, fascinating story that I had a difficult time putting down.