11.22.63 by Stephen King

11.22.63 by Stephen King

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

It’s very rare – in fact I don’t think it has happened – for me to finish a book and immediately begin writing a review. Over the past 14 months I’ve read some amazing books, some have moved me to tears, some have made me laugh endlessly and some amazed me in their energetic narrative that will remain with me for years to come, as long as my memory holds! I finished Stephen King’s 11.22.63 approximately five minutes ago and so moved was I with his storytelling and the enforced spellbinding relationship between Jake Epping – otherwise known as George Amberson – and myself, I just had to put pen to paper and begin writing. To be honest I wanted to maintain the tentative connection I had with the past for as long as possible.

I wasn’t born when Kennedy was shot in Dallas on the 22nd November 1963 and it wasn’t until the early eighties that I was aware of the significance of his assassination but ever since my father told me where he was “the day Kennedy was shot” I have always been fascinated with the conspiracy theories surrounding his death and the role that Lee Harvey Oswald played – or not – in the assassination.

So what would you do if you had the opportunity to change the course of history and would it be the Kennedy assassination you’d change? For me – and possibly a high percentage of my generation – it would have been the death of Princess Diana in Paris in 1997 and just like my dear old father I could tell you where I was when I found out that she’d been killed. It’s one memory – just like 9/11 – that will be with me until the day I die but would I go back in time and save The People’s Princess or the thousands of innocent people who died in New York on that fateful September morning? Before reading Stephen King’s book I would have probably said yes, but now, I’m not so certain! One of Newton’s laws of motion springs to mind “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction” and serves as a warning that when events change – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – there are always consequences as is the case with 11.22.63.

Stepping back in time – September 1958 – as Jake Epping does I was immediately struck with the inevitable comparison to Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Gary Sparrow character in Goodnight Sweetheart who travelled back in time to a war torn London. Fortunately for Sparrow events were held in real time and the ability to flit between the two times fairly easy, despite the complexity of juggling two very real relationships! The intriguing thing about Epping’s visits to the past were that if he returned to 2011 and then went back to 1958 things ….well that would be telling now wouldn’t it!

I’ve only had the pleasure of reading a couple of Stephen King’s novels – namely The Stand and Pet Cemetery – but I can unequivocally say that this is not only my favourite book by King but one of the best books I have ever had the honour of reading. From the very first page it holds your attention creating an air of magical mystery and until its fitting climax never lets go. I remember reading The Stand when I was a kid and wondered what it would be like travelling around American towns and cities – where few survivors remained – and although we do not encounter the superflu in 11.22.63 I had similar feelings of déjà vu and my imagination running riot.

Travelling the lengths and breadth of 50’s and 60’s America it surprised me at how in tune I became with that way of life and many a time I wondered what – given the opportunity – it would have been like living in that era. Wonder no more for King does his very best to firmly place you in a period where innocence is lost, paranoia between two countries is rife, trust is earned the hard way and a root beer costs just ten cents. In 11.22.63 you are immediately drawn in to 1950’s America, the sights, the sounds and the politics coming alive at the turn of every page. Sometimes subtly, sometimes full on but with a protagonist in Epping, King lends him an enviable voice in narration that is undeniably brilliant and breathtakingly imaginative.

Characterisation is amazing – period! Epping will introduce you to an eclectic bunch of characters on his ever changing journey. Some you’ll love, others you’ll love to hate but one thing they all have in common is their ability to hold your attention for as long as they appear on the page. I loved a number of the characters – including the baddies – and not once did I feel any were superfluous to the story but there was one woman who stole the show for me and ironically she didn’t appear until the final part of the book and not only that, she only appeared for two pages – that’s just 0.27% of the novel – but such was her colourful and mesmerising presence she affected me in a way that took me by complete surprise. Who’d have thought that a woman waiting to get on a bus would have such a profound effect on me!

The narrative is sumptuous and flows unhindered from start to finish and even in a book as big as this – 740 pages – I never once felt King was filling for the sake of bumping up the page count. Before you know it the book will have ended and although I did my very best to hang on to the final 100 pages – I really didn’t want it to end – the ending is imaginative and a fitting end to this epic tale.

If the simple appearance of the woman on the bus afforded me my favourite character of the book then Amberson’s time at school in 1950’s Jodie was without doubt the most rewarding and moving period of the entire book for me. I went through a range of emotions as Amberson recalls his experiences – the highs and lows – and although I didn’t shed a tear (it was a close run thing!), I felt the exhilaration he felt and suffered the same pain he endured. Magical.

As with any books of this magnitude, writing a review without giving any spoilers is incredibly difficult but I have tried to give you a flavour of the emotions I felt while reading this book without necessarily giving away any of the plot. This is a work of fiction – and fact based events – you should attack with limited upfront knowledge. The book jacket itself is fairly clear and references to Kennedy’s assassination will be impossible to avoid but I can certainly avoid telling you what happens in-between!

A truly wonderful book, 11.22.63 is without doubt a masterpiece and a story that will remain with me for years to come – unless I travel back in time – and should I begin to forget I will simply pick up the book and start from the very beginning. Highly recommended.

Published by Hodder 11.22.63 is available in Hardcover & Kindle

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8 Responses to “11.22.63 by Stephen King – Book Review”

  1. Jan says:

    What an amazing review of what sounds like an amazing book! And what an accolade: “one of the best books I have ever had the honour of reading”.

    I’ve just returned from a quick trip to Amazon after reading your review and you have just cost me some £££s.

    Looking forward to reading it when it’s published. Thanks!

  2. You’ve convinced me to buy it.

  3. Arah-Lynda Hay says:

    Astounding review, really! I am off to buy this book!

  4. stujallen says:

    I love sound of this jfk is one of my favcourite films and he spent so long working on this book it must be a great work ,all the best stu

  5. WCG says:

    Great review! You make the book sound really appealing. I’ve got too many books to read as it is, but…

  6. I agree, I just finished reading 11/22/63, and this book is as good as the ones King wrote in his 1980s-90s heyday, such as “It.” Loved it!

  7. Bidy says:

    I can’t agree with a summation any more than I do with this one. I waited (not always very patiently) for the release of the book after an excerpt was printed in Entertainment Weekly. The price tag put it a little out of my reach, though the library was able to put me on the lengthy list of people salivating for this one. I am currently in the 380 page range and don’t want to put it down. I find myself walking the hall at work reading it. Outstanding!

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