…it was called 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Here’s what I thought about it:
Any person with even the teeny-tiniest bit of knowledge in history knows that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t kill President John F. Kennedy. Fact is, JFK’s death was faked in order to remove him from the public eye, thus allowing him to quietly work behind the scenes without fear of government scrutiny. Even to this day, the 35th president skulks beneath the White House, clambering through a series of secret passageway, whispering suggestions in President Obama’s ear while he sleeps and perversely watching the First Lady through peepholes in the presidential bathroom.
JFK always was a bit of a creepster. America loved him for that.
Knowing all of this made it a bit hard to take Stephen King’s new book, 11/22/63, seriously. I’m usually fascinated by the kinds of screwed up timelines and wild theories set forth by alt history novels; but an entire story that hinges on something as preposterous as JFK’s assassination actually being the real deal? Even Monica Lewinsky would have trouble swallowing that.
But King is a smart guy. He’s written a best-selling novel more times than George W. Bush has screwed up second grade English. Dude knows what he’s doing. In the same way the 2013 Presidential Inaugurations utilized a lip-synching Beyonce to distract people from the fact that they were watching a boring-ass Presidential Inauguration, King wraps his potentially dull tale of silly alt history with a blanket of time travel and provides us with an immensely likable protagonist who is both a bit cynical of and in love with life in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Main character Jake Epping is asked by a buddy to travel through a worm hole in time to the late 1950s and wait around until the “Kennedy assassination” and then put a stop to it. By doing so, Jake’s buddy says, all of the wrongs in the world will be righted and everything will be magic and rainbows and cookies and magic rainbow cookies. The United States won’t get involved in Vietnam, Richard Nixon will never be President, and 9/11 won’t occur because all of a sudden all the dudes in the Middle East will suddenly decide that, you know, the U.S. ain’t so bad after all. Also, the kids of the world won’t start misspelling the word “potatoes” just because a cool V.P. like Dan Quayle tells them to. Everything will be swell.
But, of course, even in the early pages of this massive novel, we know that’s probably not the case. Apparently, Jake Epping has never read a single time travel story; if he had, he’d know that even doing something small like farting on a blade of grass can cause horrific changes down the line. Much like the days of the Carter administration, there’s a growing sense of dread throughout the novel. The reader knows bad stuff’s going to happen; he or she’s just waiting for the foot to drop.
But the journey to that inevitable end point is really, really good…mostly. As Epping becomes more invested in his life in the 1950s and ‘60s, so too do the readers. It’s interesting to hear a modern perspective on life in these “simpler times,” where soda was made with real syrup and sugar and racism hadn’t been totally, 100 percent wiped from existence like it is now. Jake gets a job and falls in love and becomes attached to people, all the while knowing that date of purpose for his little stint in time is approaching fast. It’s nearly all fascinating stuff. Like 27th President William Howard Taft at an all you can eat buffet of turkey legs and gravy, I would gorge myself on page after page of this novel.
That said, there are certainly times when King’s writing seems to be on autopilot. I like a long novel that takes its sweet time fleshing out its characters, but there are times in which 11/22/63 seems to be spinning its wheels. A few too many chapters end with Jake and his girl having sex (usually in a passive or suggestive way. King might as well have written, “We did it” at the end of these chapters.). Much like Richard Nixon’s gelatinous jowls, the whole thing seemed like it could have been just a bit tighter.
All in all, though, 11/22/63 is a great read with an emotionally-satisfying ending. I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in “what if” stories, convoluted yarns or good old-fashioned quality bullshitting.
In other words, any politician.