Tired teacher. That is, REtired teacher.
I don't want to be a Stephen King fan. Nevertheless, he knows how to tell a story! I have really liked some of his books in the past, and I really loved this book. It gave me so much to think about. I'm afraid I will have to read a few more King novels in the future. Darn it!
I was a kid when Kennedy was shot, and no explanation yet satisfies me as to what really happened. I didn't find an answer here either, but it was nostalgic to go back and revisit the scenes of that awful day. Everyone wishes it would never have taken place, but what if someone had stopped it? How different would things really be now? King stretches the imagination to the max, which is what he does best.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
11/22/63 proves that King can still tell a good story, if not one without flaws. The concept -- JFK, time travel, Texas -- may seem a bit outside his usual territory, but he’s been experimenting with alternate realities and science fiction-y ideas for a while, so it's not that much of a stretch. Once his protagonist, Jake Epping, travels through a doorway back to 1958 and begins mucking with a past that "doesn't want to be changed", the reader has a delicious sense of all the places the story COULD go, and King doesn't neglect to string us along, throwing in twists and turns both big and small. The time travel aspects of the plot are well thought-out, and the parts dealing with Lee Harvey Oswald feel impeccably researched, down to the tiniest detail. Though I've never paid much attention to all the conspiracy theories, King's take on the events leading up to the assassination kept me guessing. And one of his strengths as a writer has always been capturing the texture and personality of small town, blue collar America, and he brings the sights, sounds, smells, conversation, and attitudes of the "Mad Men" era right back to life. I enjoyed the trip to a more innocent (though not really) time quite a lot.
On the down side, while I found the main JFK plot and its aftermath pretty riveting, this portion of the book could have easily fit into a novella, and doesn’t have a lot of interaction with the various side plots. The somewhat redundant Harry Dunning story was less interesting to me, and Jake Epping’s romance with the town of Jodie, Texas and Sadie Dunhill, while not without touching moments, felt more than a little contrived in places. The protagonist could have been a little better defined, as well -- he's basically just an everyman with a sketched-in backstory (and was not convincing as someone born in the mid-70s). When all was said and done, I came away feeling that it had been a enjoyable ride, but not one I’d gotten anything too surprising or profound from.
Then again, it’s Stephen King, and that’s about what you expect from his books. 11/22/63 shows he’s still a master of popular fiction, and can do the suspense, sentimentality, and Americana that got him an audience in the first place. I can see the novel doing well as a movie, in the hands of a talented director and actors.
Audiobook notes: the reader sounds a little old to be a guy in his 30s/40s (as the protagonist is), but injects a lot of personality into the side characters.
And that is no mean feat as I have read extensively.
There is something very normal about the tenor of this fascinating book. Normal, you say? Time travel and Presidential assassinations are hardly that. But what I mean to say is that as far-fetched as the notion may be, King somehow makes it palatable and oddly credible. Perhaps I want it to be, and this Master of his Art makes it simply so. George/Jake is quite real to me from the start, as I identify with him and his travails and as he is lead down the Rabbit Hole, it is so well purveyed that I barely blinked or skipped a plausibility heart beat as the time/space continuum was breeched.
Fact or fiction, any of us that are aware, particularly if we were cognizant of this event in real time, still cling to the need to know what the underlying facts of these acts are. As I witnessed Jack Ruby shoot Oswald live on television, I can really relate. I also witnessed the second airliner penetrate the WTC and those two event cry out to me this day for explanation or revelation. And King's wonderful book, accurate or not, somehow fills in a good deal of that blank for me.
It also reveals the frightening lack of sophistication that Dallas (i.e., Dixieland in general and Gov. Perry) was then and likely remains today. There is nothing surprising about crooked cops or politicians on the take, but these people are ignorant and proud of it.
And George/Jake moves in, among and through them with such alacrity that I felt I was there with him.
I wish King would have dabbled a tad more in the notions of time, relativity, and string theory but I certainly see the difficulty in reducing these notions down for consumption by the masses.
This book is so powerful in its simplicity that it takes an author of paramount skill to have pulled it off and Steven King is that man.
Five stars is not enough.
A few years back, my image of Stephen King was entirely made up of killer clowns and rabid dogs and possessed cars (there’s a thought: Christine as a killer clown car…), the grandpappy of a genre I had absolutely no interest in. I’d read a whole two King novels, one of them because I was forced, and never felt the need to explore further.
I still haven’t read much of his (all those books full of treasure – what a wonderful thought!), but what I have read has made me into a still-astonished fangirl. I mean, I never would have believed that Stephen King could make me cry at work – not “Oh God there’s something under my desk I think it’s a clown” crying but genuinely moved tears. But there I was, surreptitiously wiping my eyes as I listened via Audible. More than once.
He does beautiful, surprising things with words.
“My honors kids were juniors… but they wrote like little old men and little old ladies, all pursey-mouthed and ‘Oo! Don’t slip on that icy patch, Mildred!’”
“…Chased my headlights down Highway 77…”
“No wonder she looked like you could staple a string to the back of her dress and fly her like a kite.”
It’s all of a piece, I thought. It’s an echo so close to perfect you can’t tell which one is the living voice and which is the ghost voice returning. For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dream clock chiming beneath a mystery glass we call life. Behind it, below it, and around it: chaos. Storms. Men with hammers, men with knives. Men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss – surrounding a single lighted stage, where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.
This is writing I want to wrap myself up in forever.
(I made a note of one exquisite line, and I still have to follow up on it: “Scaring people is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.” And I commented that that should be on the King family arms. And then I started wanting very badly to design the King coat of arms. When I find my pencils…)
I feel a bit ashamed of the fact that I’m so surprised at the warm loveliness of some of this. “Of course it went splendidly, as cream pie fights always do.” My God, that whole chapter was a joy that left me a little giddy as a reader and a little awed as a writer.
I love “The Land of Ago”. I adore “Little by slowly”, and am incorporating it into my vocabulary.
And this made, makes me very happy:
“What might that be, Miss Caltrop?” I asked. “Because I’ve got ice cream in here and I’d like to get home before it melts.”
She gave me a chilly smile that could have kept my French vanilla firm for hours.
“That probably should have told me something, but I had too much on my mind. His story was not the least of it. That’s the curse of the reading class: we can be seduced by a good story, even at the least opportune moments.” He is of my people.
“I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel as well? Why does it have to bite?”
It’s beautiful – and it’s terrifying. There’s no killer clown here, no dog foaming at the mouth, no vampires. Instead there’s something called the Jimla, which in its mystery and in its explanation is deeply unsettling. And there’s a broom, which isn’t what you expect, but which is at least as awful. The writing can have a rather pure simplicity to it – and it just goes to show that you don’t need all that much to create terror if you do it right. “Something was moving around upstairs.” *shudder*
And it’s not just a masterful way with words: his plotting is equally beautiful. The long long buildup makes actually finally getting to 11/22/63 rather like the first day of summer vacation after a long, long school year. It’s not often that the main event of a book is so very far into a long book, and yet suspense is maintained throughout. “Get rid of one wretched waif, buddy, and you could save millions of lives,” said Al Templeton, and it actually gave me chills. Because, come on: this is a cause worthy of Don Quixote. Whatever negatives can be brought against Kennedy, there’s such an aura of mythical unfulfilled promise about him that the whole premise of the book is irresistible, to Jake as well as the reader. Who knows? If Kennedy had lived, we might not have become tangled in Vietnam. We might have had a fuller, longer space program. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. might not have been assassinated. Race relations might have improved faster, more thoroughly. Who knows? He was young, smart … promising. Who knows…
In the long, slow, gorgeous buildup of the book, Stephen King demonstrates that not only is he quite the expert on torturing his characters … he is also very good at torturing his readers. I don’t know when I’ve seen quite so much foreshadowing and “had I but known”: “Things between us might have progressed faster than they did, except for what happened during that halftime.” He uses this device a lot – but he’s so damned good at it, at making the outcome nothing you ever expected no matter how many hints he gave and how much you thought he was telegraphing, that what might elsewhere be an aggravation is, here, just another way of keeping up the suspense.
Al, who went first through time and taught Jake the little he has to work with, explained to him that time is obdurate. (That not-so-common word gets a workout in this book – it’s great.) The timeline as we know it fights any attempts to make changes. But, I thought, maybe all of the delays were to put Al just where he needed to be, not to try to stop him. I sigh for my innocence…
One thing I do wonder a bit is why Jake’s full concentration was on getting rid of Lee Harvey Oswald, the wretched waif, via the one method. He never seems to have considered other possibilities, which might have been a bit simpler and perhaps more foolproof. He also never seems to consider that if he had taken out Oswald earlier it would have prevented the second daughter’s conception. See “butterflies’ wings”, below.
The flapping of butterflies’ wings, that time-honored trope of time travel fiction, is here in full force. Jake avers that he does his best to avoid any extra flapping – but, in what may be the only real flaw I can think of, what Jake doesn’t seem to think of immediately is that his taking this apartment and that, this job and that, even this car and that, kept others from taking them. That’s a pretty significant flap. This doesn’t do to dwell on… In fact, this is the tale of an intelligent man – book smart, street stupid – who goes back in time with next to no preparation and doesn’t do too badly – until he really, really does. At one point I became so irritated with Jake’s ineptitude and what happened to him because of it that images of a scathing review and greyed-out stars in the rating area danced in my mind – and then it hit me. Of course he’s inept. Exactly how ept would anyone, any English teacher from 2011, from Maine or anywhere else, with exactly no time to prepare and no history of any of the kind of behavior George Amberson is forced into – how “ept” could anyone like that be in an alien time and – eventually – place? Of course Jake is inept. That’s kind of the point.
I’m so glad I opted for the Audible edition of this. The narrator, Craig Wasson, often sounds like Jimmy Stewart, which somehow was utterly perfect. Also, there are a lot of creepy things in the world, and one of them is a voice like Jimmy Stewart’s voicing Stephen Kingisms. The janitor’s father – Dunning – sounds like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. (I’m sure I’m missing a connection there.) And there were some pretty darn good Kennedy and Cronkite impersonations, as needed. Also? Chaz is awesome, cuz.
I seem to say this a lot lately, but – I learned a bit from 11/22/63. (For one thing, the mental lapse I’ve always suffered in trying to remember that date is now conquered, with the added bonus that I will always now know the birthday of the cousin who was born the day Kennedy was shot.) I didn’t expect the anti-Kennedy faction to be also anti-racist (in a paternalistic, no-really-segregation-is-better-for-everyone sort of way). I didn’t anticipate the inevitability of the fact that there were over 200 death threats against Kennedy on that Texas trip – a very relevant fact. I trust King’s portraits of the historical figures – and his sympathetic portrait of Marina takes away some of my usual unease at real people appearing as characters in novels (especially those still living, or with direct relatives still living). I couldn’t possibly have cared less how King portrayed the “waif” – and the almost reluctant (and very limited) sympathy which he also received, and which King forced me to also feel, caught me off guard.
In the end, the main thing I take away from this sprawling saga of time travel and love and fear is a deep affection for King’s characters. Harry Dunning. Al Templeton. Sadie Dunhill. George Amberson/Jake Epping. "Deke" Simmons, Ellen Dockerty, the kids. Even the Oswalds. I won’t forget them in a hurry. Ever. I’m probably going to apologize to Stephen King in every review I write of his books, because I was an ignorant twit when I dismissed his writing for all those years. Mea culpa.
Final comment: There’s a film adaptation coming! A series on Hulu – and filming started on June 9, 2015. Dang. Guess I’ll need to subscribe to Hulu.
11-22-63: A Novel
It has been a long time since I have read a book that brought me to tears but this book did. You also have to know this is the first time I have ever read Stephen King; most of his genre is not something I would read. The book was recommended to me by my hairdresser and my new Goodreads friend Tracy .. I thank them both.
The premise of this book is a time travel back to 1963 to stop the Kennedy assassination. For me the book was more than that, is was about the story of Jake Epping, alias George Amberson???s journey from 1958 through that fatal day in November of 1963 .. from Lisbon Falls, Maine to his life in Jody,Texas , of life in a era of big America cars, JFK, high school dances and of finding the love of your life in the high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill and decisions Jake/George must make ??? how he cares for his friend and community but still keeping what will happen on 11-22-63 in his sight. And Sadie, her character is perfection ??? beautiful, clumsy and wounded.
I was in the 6th grade when Kennedy was assassinated and I can remember that day so clearly. But the research that went into the Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination amazed me. One of the major strength of this book for me was how King transforms you to the world of 1958-1963 ??? I could taste the root beer, see the blue smoked filled rooms, I could hear ???In The Mood??? with Glen Miller and see Sadie and George dancing the Lindy. I don???t want to spoil the ending but it was how it had to end ..
I did listen to this book and Craig Wasson was the narrator ??? his interpretation of this book brought the book to life ??? his narration was magnificent ??? outstanding ??? brilliant.
I miss George and Sadie!
I stopped reading Stephen King a while back because he got just too odd for my taste, but this is right up there with my favorites like The Stand, The Shining, and IT. I love time travel stories and this is really one of the best. Well thought through and just all around an excellent story.
The narration was excellent and the ending was so perfect. I can't recommend this one enough!
I have enjoyed Stephen King stories before but wouldn't call myself a huge fan - until now. This book was fascinating, entertaining, smart, has a great ending ... and even choked me up. The author and the narrator get the highest score I can give out.
I remember seeing a literary review for this book that indicated this man is not one of the giants of literature but is a good storyteller. Anyone that can connect with me like Stephen has done with this story in my opinion is of the same stature as anyone that literary reviewer would applaud as a giant of literature.
I can enjoy a pop song and I can get goosebumps from a more complex song like Thelonious Monk would write. This isn't a hard science fiction book, but there is enough complexity with relationships, research and possibilities that it played like a Monk Bemsha Swing for me.
Naval Air Corps - (DC3, C118, P2V Neptune) 1965 - 1970
Normally, I am not a fanatical fan of all Stephen Kings works because I don't enjoy dark and scary. However, this story drew me in, held me and delivered me right to the front door of WOW. It was interesting to Google Map the many addresses mentioned in the story while listening. I am ex-military and an old crusty kind of guy. I wan't exactly "crying" at the ending of the story; its closer to say my eyes were "glistening" while wearing a happy smile.
The Dragon Mother
I always wondered what it would be like if Stephen King wrote a Historical Fiction, Romance, Time Travel novel. Not really, but it was fun to take this journey with him.
Jake Epping has the chance to go back in time and change history. The thing he will be trying to change will be the assignation of JFK. But the time portal isn’t an exact thing. It only goes back to the year 1958, so he will have to ‘hang out’ until 1963. So what does a teacher do for 5 years while he is waiting around? Research all he can about Lee Harvey Oswald, teach school, and fall in love, what else?
I enjoyed all the time period references, like the fact that everyone smoked and how inexpensive everything was. (Not that I am old enough to remember!) I thought it was funny when he would slip up and use some 2011 slang or sing modern songs.
I wondered if Jake was even going to feel like going back to his own time once he got all settled into 1960’s. Sure we have all the conveniences like cell phones and internet, but they had honesty and respect.
I felt the book was a bit long, but who would really tell someone like Stephen King, ‘Hey, you have to shorten this up or no one will read it.’ LoL
I have noticed that there is a love/hate thing going on with reviewers over the ending. I loved the ending.
The Narration Review
I thought Craig Wasson did a great job narrating this story. I think he nailed the voices and sentiments of the characters just as Stephen King meant them to be read. I enjoyed hearing the New England accent and the funny pauses JFK used to use when he gave speeches.
Say something about yourself!
My earliest memory is of a special news report breaking into my grandmother's soap opera announcing that JFK had been shot. That event has been a narrative thread in my life. I'm sick of it. So while loathe to read yet 'another rehash', I thought the master storyteller's latest tale would make good company on the treadmill.
Wow. Forget the treadmill.
11-22-63 is a tale told in first person narrative that was immediately so completely gripping, entertaining and thought provoking, I suspect King wrote it the book specifically for both this new/ancient audiobook medium and reader Craig Wasson.
It doesn't actually matter what the book is about, it is King at his finest; astounding me that after about 50 books, he still has new things to say and exciting new ways to say them. Wasson's reading relies on his mastery of inflection and dialect, not voice change, making the world of 11-22-63 that of a storyteller, rather than an ac-tor. The reading itself becomes such an integral part of the story that it is difficult to tell where King's efforts end and Wasson's begin, working like a big, beautiful machine.
The experience of listening to 11-22-63 is one I will never forget. In this new form of an ancient art, it is a masterpiece.