Even if my book club hadn’t chosen Stephen King’s mammoth time-travel saga 11/22/63 for today’s meeting, I probably would’ve read it, just to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the assassination.
Buy into the basic concept that English teacher Jake Epping can walk through a portal in the storage room of Al’s Diner and emerge in 1958, and you will be sucked into this book. Jake is an eminently likeable character, and the first-person narration gets us into his view of things.
Real life details like the taste of a root beer in 1958, or the way the clerk scrapes away excess foam with a wooden spatula before topping up the drink, give you the impression you’re right there. The roomy cars, the corny expressions, the neighborly countenances, the ridiculously low prices all make this era seem like a paradise to Jake.
Until the mission he is on starts to bite back. He starts small, changing bits of history that have a personal connection, then travels back to 2011 (the present) to evaluate the results. The book makes it clear that unintended consequences will flourish and multiply when folks like Jake go messing around in the past. Enough of the consequences appear to weigh out as positive to convince him to return through the portal once more for the big one.
Going into the past, you see, according to the rules of 11/22/63, cause a complete reset. Before Jake can tackle the big mission, he has to go back again and mess with the smaller personal events he’s already messed with once before.
Ultimately he arrives in the South with the objective of figuring out a way to undo Kennedy’s assassination. His travels take him through the Florida of 1958, New Orleans and into Texas. After spending time in Dallas and Fort Worth, he settles in a little town south of Dallas, where he takes a job as a high school teacher.
Zapped with a love-ray at a party, Jake falls in love with Sadie, a new arrival in the small town. Their quaint romance helps balance the more concept-heavy ruminations in the book.
Every chapter brings a new surprise, as the past fights against Jake’s attempts to change it. If you’ve only read Stephen King’s horror novels, you’re missing something. 11/22/63 has aspects of thriller, romance and fantasy all in one big book. I recommend the book.
Left alone, the assassination of JFK yielded the world we know now. What would our world look like today if he hadn’t been gunned down that November day? We’ll never know for sure, but Stephen King presents one scenario in 11/22/63 that you’ll definitely want to consider.