A review of 11/22/63, by Stephen King
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Stephen King has won more wrting awards than I’ve written books — and I’ve written a slew of them. 11/22/63 is his 50th work, but it’s the first I’ve managed to read because I’d always associated him with horror stories, which I loathe. However, within the first few pages of this fascinating book I understood perfectly why King has won so many awards, as I found myself completely engrossed in the story.
As a work of science fiction, 11/22/63 is a fairly straightforward exploration of time travel. King’s protagonist, Jake Epping, 35, is a high school English teacher in a small Maine town when an acquaintance named Al tells him about the window or portal in time in the floor of the storage room in his diner. Al persuades him to step through the portal, which leads directly back to September 9, 1958. No matter how long Jake may stay in the past, only two minutes will have elapsed back home in 2011 when he returns. Al is dying and lures Jake into taking up the mission he himself had recently accepted: returning to 1958 and staying in the past for five years until he can track down and kill Lee Harvey Oswald before that watershed day in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Working from detailed notes about Oswald that Al had accumulated in his own, futile attempt to hold out until 1963, Jake manages to talk himself into changing the history of the world. In the course of his five-year sojourn in the past, most of it in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he meets and falls in love with a librarian at the small-town high school where he teaches to support himself. And that’s about as much of the plot as I can share without spoiling the story.
King has consummate skill both at narrative and at dialogue. His treatment of time travel is the most ingenious I’ve read despite my adolescent years as a sci-fi fan. The story races along, building tension and anticipation and, yes, the fear that embues any competent horror story. The climax and the resolution of the tale are satisfying. It’s a real pleasure to read a consummately clever story by a masterful writer at the peak of his game.