Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Book Review: "11/22/63" by Stephen King
Growing up, Stephen King was easily one of my favorite authors. Many of his novels created indelible impressions in my mind. (I still have a distrust of clowns thanks to It, and just thinking about The Stand makes me cough.) But my fondness for King has wavered a bit over the last 15 or so years, as I started discovering that as his novels grew in size, his ability to close out a story (from often exceptional ideas) suffered somewhat. Needless to say, I put a great deal of thought into deciding whether or not to read his latest opus, the nearly 900-page 11/22/63, but after flying through it in less than a week, I can unequivocally say this novel should be ranked among some of King's best work.
Jake Epping is an English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who teaches GED English classes as a way to make extra money. In response to an assignment in which he asked his students to talk about a life-changing incident, he learns that Harry Dunning, a handicapped janitor, was injured by his father during a violent rampage on Halloween night in 1958, the night he killed Harry's mother and three siblings with a hammer. This discovery deeply affects Jake, and when his friend, local diner owner Al, shows him a hidden time portal in the diner that transports you back to September 1958, Jake jumps at the chance to go back in time and prevent this massacre. No matter how long you're "back," when you return to the present you've only been gone for two minutes, and if you ever go back through the portal again, everything that happened on your last visit resets. Once Al realizes he has a kindred spirit in Jake, he enlists him in the ultimate heroic missionstopping Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. But time and history do not enjoy being diverted from their plans...
There have been thousands of books written about time travel and the idea of righting past wrongs, but in Stephen King's tremendously capable hands, this concept seems fresh and unique. I kept wondering what twists would come next, but none of them detracted from my complete enjoyment of this book. Almost every character has great depth and they easily draw you into their stories. And when a book of nearly 900 pages reads like a 300-pager, you know you're in the hands of a master. Is some of the plot predictable? Sure, but it's still utterly compelling. Don't be put off by the heft of the book or its subject matterat its core, this is a story about love, history, and trying to do the right thing, even though it may have larger ramifications. Truly a fantastic book.