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11/22/63

by Stephen King

Scribner

In shops now

Yes, this book has been out for quite some time (currently in its 14th week on the New York Times best-seller list), and yes, the folks at Scribner were kind enough to send me an early copy.  It just takes me a minute sometimes.

For those of you out there who haven’t cracked this one yet, it goes something like this: Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who travels back in time (through a portal in a diner) to 1958 to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  When I first heard of the premise I thought it to be among Mr. King’s weirdest.  And sure, it is weird, but considering the fascination with every detail surrounded this famous date, it actually makes perfect sense.

The novel is historical fiction, science fiction and a love story all at once.  As for the history here, the research is astounding and is likely to reawaken the fascination so many of us have with the assassination.  The science fiction is thankfully not as complicated as time travel adventures I have seen in films or read in books in the past (which usually has me going back to rethink an entire chain of events as if it were a math problem).  At the end of the day, however, the book is primarily a love story between Jake and a young librarian named Sadie whom he meets when he goes back in time.

For fans of Stephen King, you don’t need to be told that he writes the 1950’s like no one else.  He captures not just the sounds on the radio and the cadence of the DJs, but also the way people spoke to one another and how the politics trickled down through every class.  “It” and the novella, “The Body” are great examples and “11/22/63” illustrates his ability to capture that time to an even greater extent.  Fans of “It” will see some familiar characters here as Jake goes through Derry, Maine early in his adventures.

And there are quite a few set-piece adventures to be had over the 849 pages of the book (the date in question doesn’t come along until about 700 pages in).  First, there is a family that needs saving, a girl to fall in love with (and save as well) and a most careful and planned second act, which follows the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald in the years leading up to the shots he fired from the Book Depository.

There’s quite a lot to take in, but the detailed research, like the detailed sights and sounds of the era, make “11/22/63” a terrific read on every level.  Following Jake’s account of his travels back in time, you can’t help but be compelled in two directions at once – save the President and for the love of Pete, don’t mess up the space/time continuum!  It’s a terrific world to travel through, with wonderfully layered characters (especially Sadie), who may not be the horrific ghouls and courageous heroes we are used to in a Stephen King novel, but the events of that time in American history bring them right up to the line where the real world meets the imagined one.