Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stephen King's 11/22/63 (A Review)

***Arrrrgghhh, there be spoilers ahead, me matey***

The last two and a half years have been a bit of a reading funk for me. I don't think I've read more than thirty books in that span of time. From late 2009 and 2010 I read tons of books. Largely because I was without internet or television. The air conditioning unit was also on the fritz for most of the 2010 summer. So I was miserable. I read when I didn't want to. I read some books I didn't want to because I had nothing better to do. I was getting a bad case of insomnia. There was one bad night where I didn't sleep a wink. I was getting chills. So I just wrapped myself in my robe and sat in my bed until morning. My mom's sisters and their damn chihuahuas were visiting at the time, too. So I let the chihuahuas out once my mom and her sisters left to do whatever, sat down with Richard Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show, and tried to read it through the egg shells dancing around my eyes. That whole period of time completely sucked for me. Except for the books. Well, mostly. 

I read. I read until I literally (pardon the pun) got burned out on reading. I'd finish one book and the very next second I'd pick up another. I didn't care what the books were about. As long as they were good. I had nothing better to do and little patience for bad books. 

Last year I tried to get a good string of books going, but I stalled out after reading 15. Didn't read much of anything for the remainder of the year. 

When I heard that Stephen King was putting out 11/22/63 in November of 2011 I wasn't necessarily thrilled. Under the Dome was the last time I'd picked up a new SK book (I still don't have Full Dark, No Stars or Blockade Billy) and it wasn't one of my favorites. I didn't want to read about how depressing the times were. If I wanted that I'd watch the news more often. And of course I couldn't watch the news because I had no TV. 

After a few months passed my dad bought a pair of rabbit ears and we picked up local channels. (Only for the TV in the living room, of course. My TV got nothing but static or whatever movie I chose to watch on VHS or DVD.) One of the channels specialized in shows from the seventies. So in the late afternoon I would go into the living room with my mom and dad and watch Kojak, Magnum P.I., Delvecchio, and The A-Team. It's a scene out of a different decade, isn't it? Who does that anymore?

On the weekends there would be Buck Rogers and The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries. Woo hoo.

Earlier in the week days Rockford Files, Adam-12Emergency!, Barney Miller, and Quincy M.E. were on and I sort of watched them while I tried to entertain myself by writing something using my handy dandy Microsoft Word. But the heat, the lack of sleep, and the lack of many things to do (reading and yard work comprised the majority of my time when I wasn't trying to sleep) made me irritable and and what began as a distraction turned into an annoyance. So I quit writing anything and just played Bejeweled on the computer or Madden once my brother gave me his PS2. I kind of quit listening to music, too. The songs were keeping me awake at night and I didn't need any help in that department. 

But eventually the A.C. was fixed, we got internet and TV back, and I had TV reception in my own room. Thank you, DirecTV. Just in time for the 2010 football season, too. (Don't worry. I didn't miss much of the 2009 season. I have my uncle's generosity to thank for that.)

None of this has much to do with 11/22/63 in itself, but it has everything to do with why I was hesitant to pick it up. I wasn't sure if I could enjoy it. Or any book anymore. I was burned out and wondering if maybe reading was a fad for me. Kids go through fads, right? Maybe this was mine. 

But I decided that I would try it out. I didn't read any reviews. I just went with my gut. I loved the cover. The red and the black on the side was quite eye-catching. I'd had enough of the seventies for a time and a visit to the sixties would be a welcome break. Even if that visit didn't really happen. But I like to think it did. 

Am I glad I did? You bet your bottom dollar. Did it live up to my expectations and to King's reputation as a storyteller? Yup.

To borrow a phrase from the movie Operation Pacific, "It's still got that same old zing." 

I've never read a time travel story before. Well, I guess you could count The Dark Tower, but I don't. Time travel is a part of the story, but the story isn't time travel. It is the pursuit of the tower. 11/22/63 is about nothing but time and how one man seeks to change it. The Kennedy assassination is Jake Epping's Dark Tower and he must travel through a field of time instead of a field of roses. 

The harmonic situation presented and explained at the end of the book is taken from the Dark Tower and lays little doubt as to whether or not this book is in fact another Dark Tower related entry in the King canon. And I believe Tower-ites can deduce that Epping was acting as a beam-breaker by all of his drastic time-meddling. At least, that's what I deduced. Although Epping didn't have any psychic powers. Or maybe his travel through time left residue on him and transformed him metaphysically (if that is the right term) the way it transformed him emotionally and physically. 

But I'm glad the book didn't veer straight into Dark Tower land too far at the end because that would have hurt the overall impact of the novel. After all, the subject was time and not the Tower. And the explanation for all things Tower has pretty much already been given. 

I will say that I don't think I've ever called a main character crazy so many times before. I can't remember when the first exact time was, though. It might have been when he finally decided to go to the past. I knew it couldn't end well. Plus this was a Stephen King novel. Who the hell would choose to do something potentially life-threatening in a Stephen King novel? I wouldn't. Which is why he'd never write a book about me. But the first real moment I remember where I called Jake Epping crazy was when he started to get involved with people's lives in Jodie, Texas. Then when he started falling in love with Sadie I kept wanting to scream, "You're not even born yet, dude!!!!" Of course, the final time I called him crazy was when, at the end, he was rambling like a character from an Edgar Allan Poe story wondering what he should do. Should he risk destroying everything (even if only on his level of the Tower... or perhaps we are talking about the entire Tower. What really would have been the extent of the damage?) in order to find Sadie all over again? Well, he didn't. And I was glad he didn't. I was cheering. Although I was sad, too. Sad cheering, I guess. 

But in the end everything became undone and poor Epping was left alone with a heavy heart. Everything he went through was in vain. At least, in a manner of speaking. He did save the world. Even if he almost destroyed it.

One thing I'm curious about, though... If every trip to the past leaves residue on the past and then that past's future, won't every alternate future leave residue even if it is "undone" by the so-called reset? Hell, I'm getting myself confused. 

The trip to Derry at the beginning of the book was fantastic. Meeting up with Bev and Ritchie from It was great, but the meeting was all too brief. Meetings with old friends usually are. Of course, the meeting ended up being undone. Sort of. Got to remember the "residue" thing. 

After the trip to Derry and before Jodie the novel got a little bogged down to me. The action wasn't really there for a while and I felt like I was reading in neutral. I was down from fifty pages a day to five or ten. Of course, that didn't last for long. The beginning of the love story and the stalking of the Oswald family quickly perked my interest. After all, that's why I was reading the book. Well, I wasn't reading the book for the love story, but it sure made things more interesting. I kept wondering if Sadie could have been related to him or something. Wouldn't that have been funny as hell? 

King's alternate future (or alternate past, considering that it is now March of 2012) was interesting, too. Maybe he should write a book set in that time. I'd like to know who that constable was that the lady was talking about.

The book's ultimate ending was perfect and very fitting. Bittersweet. Sad. Poignant. The only ending that should have been. Unfortunately. I do wish Jake and Sadie could have made it out better.

But this is a Stephen King novel. The good guys may win in King's books, but usually not without a heavy cost.

As far as the whole "lone gunman" question... Well, I got a few suspicions. But Lee Harvey Oswald was a Marine. Even though he barely made it as a marksman... I wouldn't say it's not possible that he could get off a shot or two .

I'd love to know how this tale would have turned out if King had been a believer of conspiracies like his wife Tabitha. It probably would have been twice as long.

Anyway, this has been my review. I highly recommend the book to anyone who will listen.


  1. Reading funks happen. I've been in the complete opposite frame of mind as you the past couple of years though. I have been on a reading frenzy. I think maybe it has to do with the economy (my economy in particular) being so bad that I'm staying home a lot more than usual. Whenever I get into one of those reading funks, it usually takes a great book to get me out of it and once I find a great one, it gets my interest going again. You need to read Full Dark (just like the title suggests, these stories are full dark - nothing warm and fuzzy in this book) and Smonk. That will get you going again.

    Anyway, on to 11/22/63. I loved this book and in addition to the points you make, I found the factual/fictional reconstruction of Oswald's daily life completely fascinating. Everything I've ever read about Oswald has been from news reports and it's all very clinical and impersonal. SK took the known facts and constructed a life for Oswald that gives the reader most complete portrait of Oswald there is. I know part of it is fictional and speculative but I feel he nailed the real guy.

  2. Yeah, I thought I was really seeing and hearing Oswald. It's one of Stephen King's greatest feats as an author, I think. Although I wasn't too familiar with George de Mohrenschildt before reading the book, I felt that he was one of the book's stronger characters. Felt like a real guy to me. I'd be interested in seeing who will play Oswald and de Mohrenschildt in the movie. Whenever it is made.

  3. Gary Oldman was a great Oswald in JFK but he is too old now to do that again.

    Did you just spell de Mohrenschildt from memory or did you have to get the book out? (insert smiley face)

    I wasn't very familiar with him either. SK really brought the other players to life in this story. The story of Oswald shooting at the general was a story I've heard of but just barely. I didn't know much about his wife either and I found that character pretty interesting too.

  4. Well, I was looking up de Mohrenschildt to find out more about the guy. Apparently, he knew Jackie Kennedy back when she was a Bouvier. Weird.

  5. There is so much weirdness with this story that I can never rule out conspiracy. I've always thought it was a conspiracy of some type. I'm just not sure who with or how much and my opinion is ever changing on the subject.

    Here is something to think about that I don't hear mentioned much. Did you ever see the footage of Oswald's killing? Here is my problem with it. Jack Ruby fires once into the gut of Oswald and Oswald goes down and dies instantly without ever uttering a single word. Now, I guess the bullet could have struck the spine and ended it but in most gut shots I've heard of, the victim dies a slow agonizing death or pulls through. Does it seem to you that Oswald died too quickly? There doesn't seem to be much blood you can see either.