Friday, March 25, 2016

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This was my first Stephen King novel and I wasn't disappointed. I believe when I first bought the book, it was 2013. My brother had suggested it to me after he had finally finished it after a few attempts. Once I started reading it, I understood why it took him a few times to get through it because it took me a few times as well. It was never that the book wasn't good, but that it's a long book and it's a very deep book and you have to be able to devote some time to it. Well, I have finally devoted the time to it and my mind is blown.

This is one of those books that makes complete sense but confuses you all the same. It makes you wonder "what if" a lot; you think if this is at all possible; are there different time "strings" happening, where all the different what ifs play out? Not only do you need to have time to devote to this book, you need to have a clear mind, as in, I don't recommend reading this book while you are under the influence of anything.



11/22/63 is a novel about Jake Epping, although for most of the book, he goes by George Amberson. Jake is an English teacher and a divorcee. He lives a simple life of teaching and occasionally eating at a diner that has a bad rep and is run by a man named Al Templeton. A few years before the story takes place, Jake teaches a GED class where one of the janitors takes classes. The janitors name is Harry Dunning, and during a prose entitled "The Day That Changed Your Life," Harry tells the story of how on October 31, 1958, Harry's father killed his mother, 2 brothers, and put his sister into a coma that eventually took her life. This event set Harry back and ending up dropping out of school after he had fallen too far behind. Although the story isn't true, it's a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Two years later, Harry has his GED and is retiring. Jake is in his classroom grading the last few papers of the year when Al calls him and asks him to stop by the diner. This event is the event that will change Jake's life for forever, although he doesn't know it yet. Although Jake saw Al just the night before and he was fine, Al looks like he has aged tremendously, he's lost wait, and he's on his death bed. Although Jake wants to focus on the health of his short order cook, Al needs to tell him about the wormhole and his plan to save JFK!

John F Kennedy

When Jake is first told the information, he doesn't fully believe it, but admits the way that Al talks about it, he almost believes it. And then Al leads him to the back of the pantry and tells him to keep walking to the back. Jake does this as a "dying mans last wish," but is thinking he is crazy until he takes a step down and he is confused. He goes down a few more steps and he comes out into Lisbon Falls, Maine on September 9, 1958 at 11:58 AM and is on the other side of the rabbit hole.

Lisbon Falls, Maine circa 1960
I have no clue what it would be like to go back in time 53 years, but I think Jake handled it better than I would have. He looks around a little bit and then comes back to 2011 as a complete believer in time travel. But there are important things to know about going down the rabbit hole:
   
     -Every time you go back, it is again September 9, 1958 at 11:58 AM.
     -It doesn't matter if you stay a few hours, days, weeks, or years, when you come back to the present, only 2 minutes will have passed.
     -You can change the past, but every time you go back, you undo everything you did on your last visit.
     -The past does not want to change and it will do everything in its power to stop you from changing it.

So through a series of events, Jake/George makes 4 trips to 1958. The first one is his stroll around the town to see that he is actually back in the past. The second he uses as a test where he goes to kill Harry's father before the father can kill his family in hopes of all members of the Dunning family having long lives. The third is when he stays the longest, 5 years, to stop the Kennedy assassination, and once more after seeing how the world turned out and with hopes of fixing another wrong doing.

The book starts out at a pretty good pace. It's not so fast that you can't keep up, but it's not so slow that you get bored. King does a wonderful job of adding the right amount of detail so that you get a good idea of your surroundings, but it's not so wordy that it's bogged down in details. I think the first time I started to feel the story was stale was after George killed Frank Dunning and before he turns up in Jodie, Texas. I didn't care too much for his quiet life of placing strategic bets and getting a degree through the mail. Seeing as this was about a third into the book, it worried me for the rest of the story.

But then George shows up in Jodie and King starts to make a love story out of a historical sci-fi novel. The relationship between George and Sadie Dunhill was so real, I felt like I was listening to someone's actual love story. But even before Sadie came into the picture, I loved hearing about George's time in Jodie.

(FYI: Derry, ME. and Jodie, TX are fictional places and it confused and broke my hearts!)

I pictured Jodie similar to Stars Hollow from Stars Hollow: small; everyone knows your name; and no one cares about your business, they're just looking for the next piece of gossip so they can judge you. I guess in some ways that can be charming and appealing, until something happens to you and you can't go to the grocery store without eyes peering at you over the produce stands.

Fictional town of Stars Hollow, CT. from Gilmore Girls.
The thing about being a man from the future is you have to  keep a lot of secrets from people. Although Sadie might have been naive in the past, she has wised up since leaving her psycho ex and she knows that George is hiding things from her. Although he at first keeps everything from her, they end up separating because of it and he hates himself every day they're apart. He thinks about telling her, he thinks about giving up his mission and living the rest of his life in the past with her, but really he just does a lot of moping and whining like people do when they've screwed up a good thing.

Through a turn of events, they end up back together, and he ends up telling her everything, a little at first, but slowly she learns everything. And while most people would think George was crazy, he knows the truth about too many things that will happen for her to think that. In the end, Sadie helps George, who she now calls by his true name Jake in privacy, kill Oswald and without her, he never would have been able to achieve it. However, the consequences are huge for Jake/George and the world.

This is where everything gets really what if-y. Obviously, we have no idea what would happen if JFK had lived. Al believed it only would have led to good things, like less hate crimes and discrimination. Honestly, that's what I want to believe too. And maybe, if things had happened that way originally, it would have. But since Jake went back to change it, things became so much worse. The apocalyptic world that Jake came back to is not a world that I would ever want to dream of living in. It's filled with radiation and constant natural disasters, evil kids, and more hate than was present in the original 2011 that Jake knew. 

The characters in the book are all extremely dynamic and all provide interesting dialogue. They all seem so real, I have to wonder if King based them off of people he actually knew. And as for the characters who were real people, it felt like I was listening to real conversations they could have had. The character you need to pay close attention to is the Green Card Man, he's quite important at the end. 

I will say that I do not like how Dallas and Fort Worth were painted. I can't talk about the Texas from the 60s, as I wasn't even a twinkle in my parents eyes then, but the Texas now is a wonderful place, and I am glad to be a Texan. I have spent 23 of my 25 years in the DFW metroplex, and although there are definitely areas that are sketchy, the people are 95% nice, a lot nicer than other cities I have spent time in over the years. But King did get one thing right: "There's no barbecue as good as Fort Worth barbecue." 

Fort Worth, TX


All in all, I was impressed with the book and I'm glad that I can finally say that I have read it. Because of the length of it, I don't think I'll read it again any time soon, but it has definitely earned it's place on my book shelf.

Rating: 7/10
Pages: 849 (paperback)
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
How Likely Am I to Suggest it to Someone: If you like sci-fi or history, this should definitely be on your reading list!

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