Strengths: Fantastic imagination, yet scarily realistic
Weaknesses: Some bits were a bit slow
Why I read it: Care highly recommends it (five slices of pie)
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Rating: 9 out of 10
Unlike most people, I have never, ever read Stephen King prior to reading 11.22.63. (My friends are astonished at this). I’m not terribly big on scary books, nor sci-fi. So why did I read this book? Well, Care read this some time ago and encouraged me to do so. Even though I don’t really like things too far away from reality, I don’t mind reading about time travel (such as the Outlander series) or alternate history. This is a big chunkster of a book, and I literally could not put it down. Thanks Care for the recommendation!
On the surface, everything seems normal in this book. Jake Epping is a high school English teacher looking forward to the summer holidays when he gets a call to visit Al, the owner of a local diner he sometimes frequents. Surprised, Jake does so to find Al massively changed – older, and with incurable lung cancer. This is strange – Jake only saw him recently. Al then tells Jake that there’s a time portal to 1958 in his store room. Jake isn’t sure what to make of this, but goes into the store room – to find himself in the same town in 1958. Returning after a tasty root beer, Al tells Jake of his plan – to stop JFK’s assassination in 1963 and hopefully prevent the Vietnam war, Martin Luther King’s death and a number of other events.
Jake decides to have a go – after all, every time he goes back to 1958, the past resets, so it’s not like he can’t erase any mistakes. So Jake goes back to the past to prevent a man’s family being killed, a young girl being disabled and to save JFK. Along the way, he faces many problems (after all, the past doesn’t like change) but the biggest change is that he falls in love.
This book had many elements to it – looking at the number of changes between 50’s America and today (Prices! Manners! Safety!), what would happen in an alternate future, friendship but most of all love. I didn’t expect King to have a romantic element to his stories! However, there are some explicit violent parts which are more what I expected (but I skimmed through those). To be a King character means to be run through the mill – Jake seems to experience every emotion and some very near misses. Other characters meet untimely ends, but every word is heartfelt. King is a good writer who evokes the time period brilliantly (I can’t say from experience, but the time period is just like Mad Me. I mean that as a compliment).
I raced through this book – the majority really had me hooked. Even though Jake is there waiting for one day, there are so many other things going on. There’s the romance between him and Sadie, trying to escape the seedy town that is Derry, friendship and glimpses of Lee Harvey Oswald. Occasionally things dragged (usually when Jake was waiting on Oswald to do something) but the quiet times as a teacher in Jodie were just as much fun to read as the chase across Dallas.
The time travel part was good too – it wasn’t too weird and for the most, didn’t affect the day to day part of the storyline. The ending while not what I really wanted, was plausible. I’d read another Stephen King that wasn’t scary. Any recs?