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.
I am only on Chapter 3 and am hooked! So glad for the holiday weekend so I'll have more time to listen.
Avid listener on my daily commute!
This was my first Stephen King, and I only embarked upon the project (and a book this long IS a real project) as a joint reading comprehension exercise with a highly intelligent aphasia patient with a strong interest in American history. Wow, am I ever glad I did! I would recommend this book to anyone who likes science fiction/time travel, history (the book is VERY well researched), or American literature and drama (the main character, a high school English teacher by trade, also serves as high school drama coach/director). While the Kennedy assassination is a particular focus, this book will make you think differently about ALL human watershed moments, both large/collective and small/individual. You will find yourself wondering about how the Butterfly Effect might have caused your own present to be different, if certain key events had not occurred in your past. You'll laugh out loud MANY times, cry at the wonderful ending, and marvel at the "alternative" United States of a very changed 2011 if JFK had survived Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet. A must-read! Now I need only figure out what my NEXT Stephen King should be!
Time travel, magic doors, nineteen & Takuro Spirits--definitely in one of the Dark Tower worlds (or close enough for government work), but geared toward a more mainstream audience. It worked for me and I'd recommend it to any fans of King's Dark Tower series.
Could have done without the narrator's chuckling (fairly frequent) and the rare fake crying (e.g., hammer scene), but they weren't enough to tarnish my experience. Overall, Wasson did a fine job with an engaging tale.
I am brutally honest. Popular, love everything they read, reviewers are scared to go neg. and risk their ranking. It's your money!!!
NOW YOUR COOKING WITH GAS
Well researched historical fiction, great romance, an old story done in a new way, teasers, small horror, action, but mostly a movie theatre experience is what you get in this long, but short book.
THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES
Have you experienced a movie so good, so well done that you feel you are in it? When you walk out of the theatre it takes you a while to get your brain back to reality. This books is so well written and so well narrated, you will lose yourself in it. You will feel you are watching this on an I-max screen in 3D with surround sound. Compared to King most other authors are ALL HAT AND NO CATTLE. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU, to immerse yourself.
IF YOUR IN LOVE, SMALL POX SCARS ARE AS PRETTY AS DIMPLES.
At least one reviewer has put down the romance. I am not a fan of romance novels, but I could not help falling in love with the main female character and wishing her all the best. I wanted so much for there to be a happy ending and I will not tell you how it ends. It may have been ROMANCE AT SHORT NOTICE, but when she says HOW WE DANCED, I cried. I am a macho man, so I will deny this, DON'T ASK DON'T TELL. I HAVE POUND CAKE.
MY OLD MAN DRIVES A SUBMARINE
The book is thoroughly researched, down to the price of a root beer and the rhyming games of jump roping little girls. I love historical fiction and welcome King to the genre. A BLAST FROM THE PAST, A PLATTER THAT MATTERS.
YOU AIN'T FROM AROUND HERE.
In this 30 hours plus story that goes by too quickly, King also touches on several themes that are near and dear to my heart. He talks about cities or towns with personalities. I moved around a lot as a child of a military family. It is something I noticed even as a kid. Today I deliver to several grocery stories and I find they have personalities all their own, even chain stories. I find empathy varies greatly in different people and charm can go a long way in a persons career. Lots of times it is not how smart you are, it is how charming you are that gets you ahead in life. IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH.
I did have a few issues, most of them minor. The book had a few teasers, I found annoying. This story is way over done. Grimwood has a great book called Replay, written in the 70's about when King was thinking about writing this story, that is pretty damn good. A lot of time travel books have been written and those written by authors of King's generation love to go back and try and save Kennedy. They seem to think that had he lived, life would be so much greater now. I also think that King took the 5th on this and did not answer the question. It seems to be the main question of the entire book and after thirty hours he does not answer it. I did not care for THE PAST HARMONIZES, aspect of the book and felt it detracted from the story. I also worry about glorifying the past. I remember when people in customer service type jobs totally sucked. I remember dreading going to the Dept. of Rev. cause of the mean hateful old ladies that worked there. You would stand in line for hours and when you got to the head of the line they would tell you, you needed to go to another line. When you walked into a hamburger joint the teenager behind the counter, would usually make it plain she rather be anywhere else then taking your order. Companies today have trained their people to be better in customer service and most seem to be happy to help. I remember bias ply tires and cars that broke down after 100,000 miles. In my day you better know how to change a tire. I have shopped at Western Auto stores, I much prefer Lowe's. I won't even go into civil rights, Women's rights, less freedom of speech and the cast system that was much more pronounced in the old days. We are better today then we were in the 60's. ASK ME NO QUESTIONS AND I'LL TELL YOU NO LIES.
YOU NEED TO DIG OUT YOUR EARS.
This narrator is excellent and I loved the secret voices he added. Listen carefully and tell me if you don't hear, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and John Houseman. Oh, they may not be perfect, but I liked them.
PUDDIN' TANE, ASK ME AGAIN AND I'LL TELL YOU THE SAME.
Stephen King has an overwhelming volume of work to his name and, admittedly, I have merely scratched the surface of it with the few books I have read. Therefore, my review, where it concerns Mr. King, can be taken with a grain of salt. I have never been a huge fan of King's books. Of those that I have read, I have liked and disliked them in about equal proportion. So, when I saw the reviews for this book I was skeptical but the number of 5-stars reviews was overwhelming and at 30 hours it was a lot of bang for the credit. So I decided to go for it.
I was overwhelmed by how much I loved reading this book. On my arrival home from my hour commute, I would sometimes continue driving or sit in the driveway to make it to a stopping point. Listening to it extended my evening walks by an hour just so I get more of the story. In my limited opinion of King's work, this is by far the best thing he's ever written.
I don't want to get into the meat of the story for fear of giving anything away. It is a story about time travel and, while the author does touch on the means that make this possible, the book doesn't get mired in the technicalities. As the title makes obvious, the central aim of the protagonist is to find a means of preventing the Kennedy assassination but, while this is the ultimate goal that drives the story, it is the ancillaries that accompany Jake/George's quest that make the book great.
I really don't want to say much more. Whatever reservations you may have just push them aside and buy the book. You won't be disappointed.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
As always Stephen King pulled me into his world with the greatest of ease... and as usual, he destroyed a perfectly excellent plot with a horrible, half-baked ending.
If you want a great Stephen King book, go check out Misery or the Langoliers... most of his other books end the way this one does: with a terrible ending that doesn't even seem to fit with the rest of the novel.
I was entertained for many hours, but ultimately left feeling let down.