11/22/63 – Book Review

I knew where I was; Lisbon Falls, Maine, deep in the heart of Androscoggin County. The real question was when I was. – from 11/22/63, page 31 –

Jake Epping is thirty-five years old, a high school teacher living in Maine in the year 2011. Jake makes a little extra money teaching GED classes and he meets a janitor named Harry – a soft-spoken man whose essay about the murder of his mother and siblings in 1958 blows Jake away. So when Al, a friend of Jake’s who owns a local restaurant, reveals a “rabbit hole” to the past, Jake takes it. What unfolds is travel back in time to the late 1950’s, just over four years before JFK is assassinated. Jake has the power to change the past, but will it make the future better, or worse?

Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is a sprawling doorstopper filled with realistic characters and plenty of “what-ifs.” He takes the reader back to a time in history when gas was cheap, racism was rampant, women’s rights were just beginning to be glimpsed, and people left their doors unlocked. There is no Internet, no terrorists, no hyped up airport security. As Jake navigates this world from the past, he must live two lives – one as an affable school teacher and another as a man from the future who plans on changing history forever.

In true King fashion, readers will recognize characters from previous novels. Jake spends a bit of time in Derry, Maine – the town where It was set – and the “clown murders” are still being talked about there. Derry is still not quite right with the stench of industry and the dark Barrens where the sewers empty.

But the focus of the book actually takes place in Dallas and just outside of that city. King spends a lot of time creating Jake’s alternate life there, introducing dozens of characters and intertwining their stories. Sadie, a school librarian, becomes a central character in the story, a twist that makes the plot less predictable.

Thematically, King explores the idea of history repeating itself, the sense that things happen for a reason, and the danger of trying to change history. The Butterfly Effect, the idea that small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state, becomes a major theme in the novel.

It was clear to me that King spent a lot of time researching for this book – the history, politics, and sociology of the times is staggering in its detail. That detail allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story and transports her back in time.

King is truly a master storyteller. It has been a long time since I have read one of his novels – but I was instantly reminded why I have always loved his books. The characters leap from the pages, fully formed and believable. Despite this being a time-travel book, something which is clearly outside reality, I found myself firmly believing the premise. And this is what King does best – he engages his audience, takes them places where they might not travel themselves, and convinces them this could happen.

My only criticism is that I think the novel could have been edited down by about 200 pages. But, this is Stephen King, not only a master storyteller, but the king of the chunkster…and so, this minor quibble should not deter anyone from picking up a copy of 11/22/63. Despite its heft, the novel is intriguing enough to keep even the most distracted reader turning the pages.

Readers of horror, historical fiction, and time travel novels, as well as those who have loved Stephen King’s work in the past, will not want to miss 11/22/63.

Highly recommended.

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Overall Rating:

Have you read and reviewed this book? Consider linking your review up for the Chunky Book Club here. Discussion of this book will begin on The Chunkster blog on March 13, 2012 – I hope you’ll join us!

Read more about Stephen King.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book.

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    • Bekah on March 12, 2012 at 10:38

    Yup – I read 11/22/53 a few months ago – it was the first Stephen King I’d been able to actually read all the way through (although Lord knows I tried). I was interested in the time travel aspect and what King would do with it. He did pretty well – gave me an idea which, imo, is better than his but his was okay. I would have given the book a 4 on your scale. I agree the character development was well done as was the historical detail.

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:30

      Glad to hear you also enjoyed this book, Bekah. I thought King did time travel really well in this book…and it is always his characters who draw me in!

    • Becca on March 12, 2012 at 15:46

    I thoroughly enjoyed this one too, and thought he did a great job with the historical detail. I was in Dallas while I was reading it, and actually happened to go down to Dealy Plaza and wander around. Made it all come to life even more.

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:31

      Becca – I bet being in Dallas while reading this book made it that more “real!” Glad to hear you also liked the book!

  1. I loved this book and every single detail in it. Sure, it could have been shorter, but I wouldn’t have wanted it that way.

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:42

      Kathy: I think those readers who love the fat books would agree!

  2. I loved, loved, LOVED this book. I couldn’t put it down, and read it quickly. I know King meanders considerably in his books and a lot could have been carved out of the overall story, but I didn’t mind it when he had separate stories and anecdotes. I love his overall storytelling style and did immediately miss the characters at the end when the book was over. I can’t wait for more.

    I am just starting to read King’s work in the past few months and can’t believe I’ve missed out on so much in my reading life! Kathleen (from Boarding In My Forties) and I have started The Stephen King Project (details at either of our sites), and feel free to link up this review to the main website we created for it. I wanted to document my year-long project, as did Kathleen, and we’re giving out prizes each month 🙂

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:33

      Natalie: I agree about the meandering – if another writer did that I would find myself annoyed…but King does it so well *laughing* Although I mentioned the length, it was a minor quibble! I will stop by later to check out your project 🙂 I hope you’ll drop by the Chunkster challenge blog and join in our discussion of 11/22/63 – not a lot of action yet over there, but I hope people will start commenting more in the days ahead!

      1. Hi, Wendy! Thanks for posting and I did post today at the site to announce that the discussion on 11/22/63 is happening at the Chunkster site. Here’s the link to The Stephen King Project post for Chunkster: http://thestephenkingproject.blogspot.com/2012/03/did-you-know-112263-is-being-discussed.html

    • Kim on March 13, 2012 at 13:29

    I really enjoyed this book. And on the Kindle, without the heft of an actual book, it didn’t seem like such a chunkster.

    I really liked the aspect of how each re-visit caused some deterioration…you can’t go back and re-do it.

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:33

      I liked that aspect too, Kim…at first we thought everything was a complete re-set – but then, it becomes apparent that is not the case.

    • Amused on March 13, 2012 at 18:39

    I am really intrigued by this book, partly because when I think of Stephen King this is not the type of book I think of at all and partly because I love this time period so I am glad to see you really enjoyed it!

      • Wendy on March 14, 2012 at 06:34

      Leah – I hope you’ll get a chance to read it – it is one of his best, I think.

  3. I have been reading such great reviews of this one, and Sandy lent me the audio version, which I need to get to soon. It sounds like an amazing story, and one that I would really enjoy. I am glad that you liked it, and think your review was wonderful!

  4. The Butterfly Effect is just such a fascinating idea; I love seeing it crop up (or flutter past?!) in movies and books. This is one that I still have set aside for listening, but I’ve been listening to 1Q84 for what seems like ages.

    (I don’t mean to make that sound like a chore, for Murakami’s books is surprisingly engaging — and in the print form it would count for the Chunkster Callenge — but I’m only listening for a few hours each week, and I’m not convinced that I am a very good listener in the end, so I don’t want to start a second long-listen just now and risk not finishing either. Heh.)

      • Wendy on April 8, 2012 at 10:59

      Buried in Print: Oooooh, I am impressed that you are reading 1Q84 – that book looks SO intimidating to me!

  5. I have to read this one before the year is out. I was determined to read King in chronological order but this would mean it could take me YEARS to get to this gem so I’m going to have to revise my plan. Great write up Wendy!

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