11/22/63: A NOVEL by Stephen King

Book Quote:

“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…A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (NOV 8, 2011)

Dedicated Stephen King fans are in for an epic treat—an odyssey, a Fool’s journey, an adventure with romance. A genre-bending historical novel with moral implications, this story combines echoes of Homer, H.G. Wells, Don Quixote, Quantum Leap (the old TV show), Jack Finney’s Time and Again, and even a spoonful of meta-King himself, the czar of popular fiction.

For King fans, the voice is familiar—the hapless, reluctant, lonely, courageous, romantic, destiny-bound hero/scarred social warrior. The story is King-esque– towering, prophetic, and flamboyant. For non-King readers, this may not chime. It may seem melodramatic, exaggerated, histrionic. But he isn’t attempting to write a deep and complex revisionist history. This is mainstream entertainment; King is King of what King does—the unruly escapist story with a huge and sentimental heart. The “Constant Reader” will approve.

This is not horror, in case you are strictly old school fans. However, there is a touch of the supernatural via time-travel. And there is blood and gore sprayed here and there. If you liked Under the Dome,  you will likely enjoy this one. If you are new to King, and are reading this for more insight into the fateful day of 11/22/63, or a “what would the world be like if…?,” this is not King’s principle design. It hovers, yes, and is material only to the primary theme.

Somewhere in the space-time continuum between preservation and progress is the “obdurate past” and the malleable future. Do we have the moral right to alter history, if we could? This is Jake Epping’s noble journey–to answer that question—and, even more so, to ask it. The thrust of the story centers on Jake and the other fictional characters King created; however, JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, and other historical characters are an essential backdrop and stimulus to the events that unfold. King’s best nuances illuminate how the past and the present have a harmony that echoes, sings, dances, and shadows.

“It’s all of a piece…It’s an echo so close to perfect you can’t tell which one is the living voice and which is the ghost-voice returning.”

English schoolteacher Jake Epping is introduced to a portal to the past by his friend, Al Templeton, who owns a greasy spoon diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Al discovered it years ago, and has made many “trips” back and forth, but he is too sick now to return. The portal brings you to September 9, 1958, 11:58 am. No matter how many days, months, or years you stay, you always return two minutes later on the day you left, 2011 (but you will biologically age).

Jake’s mission is to stay five years, keep tabs on Oswald and uncover the truth of the Kennedy assassination controversy—and, if Oswald acted alone, to stop him. King provides details that make the time-travel plausible—suspending disbelief in that sense is playfully easy. Compounding Jake’s goal is his desire to change other pieces of the past—to change other tragedies, which confronts the prophecy that “the past is obdurate,” those words that he returns to.

Jake assumes the identity of George Amberson, and makes a couple of trial runs before committing to his five-year stay. He eventually lands in the fictional town of Jodie, Texas, a town north of Dallas, where he can earn a living as a teacher, and tail Oswald during his off-hours. It is in Jodie where the moral questions and most of the adventure lodge in the reader’s heart. Jake/George becomes emotionally invested in the people, the town, and one attractive librarian, Sadie Dunhill. Inevitably, his mission and his new life rub together, generating poignant conflicts and urgent demands that threaten to undermine his quest.

King’s strengths include his sense of place and time. He renders 1958 so specifically that you will be transported. Ten-cent root beers with foam; fin-tailed Chevrolets; cigarette smoke wafting inside and out; Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis from the jukebox; dancing cheek-to-cheek; mink stoles and Moxie soda; rotary dial phones and party lines, and so much more to texturize the “Land of Ago.” There’s even a meta-fictional surprise in Derry, where characters from a former novel appear, connecting George with the past’s push on the present. King makes it credible for memories to branch arterially from past to present, for different time periods to cast hazy shadows and intersections on each other. Parallels flourish, coincidences shade.

The novel is both story and character-driven, but there’s no question of the white hats vs. the black hats here. King removes the guesswork, which can be a drawback to discovery. Dialogue is earnestly overstated, motives occasionally simplified, and plot devices conveniently executed, or with a bait-and-switch technique. He isn’t one for much subtlety, justifying (too many) coincidences by cleverly making coincidence part of the theme. But it works, and beneath it all is an enchanting story. The reader cares as passionately as Jake. Sadie, however, is the unforgettable character in this book. Jake/George may be the hero, but Sadie is the spirited touchstone. Comely, fetchingly clumsy, and wounded, she dances off the pages.

Despite the voluminous research done by King into the Oswald controversy, his conclusions are woven into the book rather cursorily, but emphatically. Does this matter? It might, especially to readers who feel that authorial intrusion into the narrative was intemperate. The reader doesn’t have to necessarily agree with a character’s actions, but if a historical context is displayed as fact, but the facts don’t add up for the reader, then it falls apart.

No popular author closes a story like Stephen King. Consummately sublime and serendipitous, he builds deft bridges and ladders that are not only cosmic and mystical, but also fitting and relevant. He captures in a few chapters what an evocative song can capture in a few minutes. Whatever his flaws, his rewards are plentiful. Classy, cosmic, mystical, and kaleidoscopic–it was radiant and clear, through a glass, darkly.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 2250 readers
PUBLISHER: Scribner; Original edition (November 8, 2011)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


*1Takes place in Castle Rock, Maine
*2Takes place in Derry, Maine
*3 Takes place in Little Tall Island, Maine
*P These two books have one “pinhole” vision into each other

The Dark Tower Series

Originally written as Richard Bachman

Co-written with Peter Straub


And the Movies created from his books:

November 8, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Alternate History, Facing History, Speculative (Beyond Reality), Texas, y Award Winning Author

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