“11/22/63” by Stephen King
I’m going to head off on a road trip with my husband and baby in April, with our main stop being Dallas, Texas. Our hotel isn’t far from the Texas Book Depository where President John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963, so in addition to the other trip-related topics I’m cramming on, I figured I should probably brush up on my Kennedy assassination information.
Then I found out that Stephen King (who I love and will follow wherever as a reader) had JUST come out with a novel about these exact events – like a few months ago.
Clearly, I had to read “11/22/63.”
Although, in hindsight, if it was Kennedy assassination information I wanted, there are other books I could have turned to.
Here’s my issue with Stephen King: I adore him. I think he’s one of the best storytellers of all time. All that said, it seems as if he’s simply forgotten how to end a book. He’s exceptional at creating characters you relate to, and events that build, but things build and build and then reach an ending that isn’t really satisfying — and in fact, may not even make sense. (“Battery Acid!” is what my husband cries out every time we have this discussion – see “It” if you’re confused. Personally, I’d cite the WTF ending of the recent “Under the Dome,” which I otherwise loved. Or, grr, the last chapters of “Gerald’s Game.”)
“11/22/63” is the story of a regular Joe English teacher named Jake who (looong story short) travels back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy thanks to a portal in a run-down diner. The portal takes him to 1958, so he has five years in which to make a life before the day of reckoning arrives – enough time to stop some other terrible things from happening, fall on the bad side of a mobster, and find a life (and a love) in a small town.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Time doesn’t seem to want to be changed, and things stack up against Jake right from the get-go. There’s a wee bit of mysticism, and a lot of it is about choices and consequences.
In the end, it’s not really about Kennedy, his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, or any of the history. It’s about a guy and the moves he makes and the ripple effects that then occur. The book is a pretty good read, if you can disregard the (rather disappointing) ending.
In the grand tradition of Mr. King, there are loads of references to his past works – “The Shawshank Redemption” and “It” most notably. (I’m not spoiling anything by saying that a couple characters who survive “It” show up and have a conversation with our hero.) A big piece of the book takes place in Derry, Maine, which should ring a bell as it’s a made-up city that King uses frequently. That part is cool, and makes the reader who notices it feel a bit like a member of a cool club.
There are better books by Mr. King. This one won’t be one of his classics.