Review: 11/22/63 — Stephen King

Read: 97
To Go: 3

Book List
91. Call Me Russell — Russell Peters
92.  The Golden Compass — Philip Pullman
93. Homeport — Nora Roberts
94. The Search — Nora Roberts
95. Beach House — R.L. Stine
96. The Nutcracker, retold by Mark A. Taylor
97. 11/22/63 — Stephen King

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

“I have never been what you’d call a crying man,” Jake Epping says on the first page of 11/22/63. I’ve never been what you’d call a crying woman, either, but when reading Stephen King’s latest book (also, the first book I’ve read by him), I almost did. I bought the book for its time-travel plot, and fell in love with it for an entirely different reason. Though the time-travel was cool, too.

I didn’t know much about the Kennedy assassination, barring that he was assassinated and the large consensus was that it was done by a man named Lee Harvey Oswald. I also know very little about the window of time between 1958 and 1963. King must’ve done a lot of research on both subjects, and it shows — his depiction of the era, and of the creepy Oswald himself, came across perfectly real.

On the topic of Oswald, there was so much potential to make him a caricature — a nasty, snarling beast, and nothing more — purely because he’s one of the best known antagonists in American history, but King stayed clear of that. Lee Harvey Oswald has his ups and downs, alternating between moments where he was a bully, a wife-beater and moments where he was just a man who truly loved his family, who cried when he was separated from his daughter. I found myself empathizing with him at times, even when all reason dictates I shouldn’t feel for him at all.

The heart of the book, the reason I fell in love with it, revolved around Sadie Dunhill, the love of Jake’s life. All of my favourite parts, and all of King’s best writing (in my humble opinion), came when Sadie and Jake were together. Romance has the possibility to get cliche and icky (especially, I find, in the hands of male writers — no offence, guys!) but that wasn’t an issue here. I just…there are no words to describe how much I loved the two of them, and how close to tears I was at the end. If I wasn’t a robot, and all that…

Anyway, consider me a Stephen King convert. If, you know, I’m not pressed for time, or anything. His books are massive, and it took me about six days to read this one — if I’d taken any longer, 11/22/63 might’ve cost me the challenge. But I’m better for having read it.

Next book: my mother lent me yet another Nora Roberts book. (Are you sick of seeing her name yet?) It’s short and I’ll be able to read it in a day, and as a quick preview, I can almost guarantee I’ll be tearing it limb from limb.

– Kelsey

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