11.22.63 by Stephen King

11.22.63 by Stephen King

4.29  ·   Rating details ·  306,162 Ratings  ·  30,843 Reviews
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11.22.63 by Stephen King

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.


Go ahead, book snobs. Proclaim haughtily that Stephen King is not Literature. I shall retort with a Pratchett quote, "Susan hated Literature. She'd much prefer to read a good book." And nobody argues with Sir Terry.

(Since 'a picture is worth a thousand words', the above is a three-thousand-words summary of this book. Impressive, no? And also - dancing is life.)

As you probably guessed from the not-too-spoiler-sensitive title, 11/22/63 is a book about time travel. My love for it is an exception rather than a rule - you see, I am not usually a fan of the Grandfather paradox. Speaking of which:
“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?"
He stared at me, baffled. "Why the fuck would you do that?”
As the title proceeds to shamelessly tells us, the book deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy (and if the title fails to convey the message, then hopefully you - like yours truly - have Google-pedia'd it. Hey, don't judge, I was born in Eastern Europe). Anyway, it's another of Stephen King's 'what if?' situations. What if you could go through a 'rabbit-hole' to the past? Would you try to change history for the better, would you try to right the wrongs? Well, who wouldn't??? And so Jake Epping, an English teacher, sets out to spend half a decade in the past to prevent the assassination of JFK (and to figure out whether Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed the lone gunman that day, despite all the conspiracy theories).
"As I flipped to the back, I kept seeing that double take. And the grin. A sense of humor; a sense of the absurd. The man in the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository had neither. Oswald had proved it time and again, and such a man had no business changing history."

** What if their lives had never intersected?**
“Even people capable of living in the past don't really know what the future holds.”
The question is - what would have happened had JFK survived the assassination that day in Dallas? Would we still have Vietnam War, race riots, and Martin Luther King's death? Could the lives of many innocent people be spared? Could JFK lead the country into a better future? Jake believes so. But what if the past resists the change? What is the price of changing the past?
"The past is obdurate for the same reason a turtle’s shell is obdurate: because the living flesh inside is tender and defenseless."
This book again dispels the long-believed but mistaken axiom that Stephen King is a "horror writer" - of a spook and startle variety. No, in the traditional sense he is not. He knows that the true monsters are those that live inside every one of us (and, ahem, occasionally in Derry, Maine). He has created his own brand of psychological suspense - with the brilliant and scary insight into the minds of average everyday people (who all have some darkness inside them and a skeleton or two in the closet - sometimes quite literally) superimposed onto the masterful description of small towns themselves (eerily resembling sentient living creatures, determined to hold on to their dark secrets). (*) And we get plenty of these in this book, as Jake's quest to prevent that fateful shot in November in Dallas takes him along the way to the small towns of Derry, Maine and Jodie, Texas.
* I have an irrational fear of living in a small town, thanks to Stephen King. What if it turns out to be another Derry or Castle Rock?! *shudder*

(By the way, this trip to the past gives plenty of deeeeee-licious 'Easter Eggs' to King's Constant Readers. We see little echoes from Pennywise the Clown era in Derry, meet our favorite 1958 Plymouth Fury ( Hellllloooo there, Christine! ), and even get a nod to A Wizard and Glass with Takuro Spirit).
“On that gray street, with the smell of industrial smokes in the air and the afternoon bleeding away to evening, downtown Derry looked only marginally more charming than a dead hooker in a church pew.”
Derry of 1958 (right after the terrifying events of IT) is particularly repulsive and sinister. It's a small wonder Jake is able to continue his quest after starting in such an ominous place. But even there King manages to include some unexpected beauty - just remember Richie and Bevvy dancing.

And the reverse applies to the idyllic town of Jodie in which Jake is finally able to feel that he actually LIVES in the past. Deep down under the beauty and quaintness lies the ugly little reality. And the same remains true for the Land of Ago, the glorious past of absent airport security, no cholesterol warnings, and everyone happily puffing their way to lung cancers. The 1950s-60s are described with sweetness and nostalgia, but King never hesitates to bluntly remind the reader that the past has teeth and it's not afraid to bite.

King is an excellent writer and an amazing storyteller. His writing is effortless and natural, the characterization is apt and memorable, and the dialogue superb and real-sounding. I truly felt for Jake during each step of his journey. I loved how Oswald was described as not a villain or a nutcase but a flawed broken little man who stumbled into the middle of events that changed history. The other characters - Sadie, Deke, Ellie, Frank Dunning - were so well-written that I could feel them come to life (which actually can be a scary statement when the world of sai King is concerned). The story, despite its sizable length, was flowing along and never lost my attention. And his slow build-up of the sense of suspense and doom - think The Yellow Card Man (*) and jimla and the 'harmonizing past' - was just enough to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the book.

Pardon me for using this moth-eaten cliche, but Stephen King is like good wine - his writing gets better and better as he ages. Some may consider The Stand his masterpiece (to his dismay - who wants to think he's already reached the peak of his writing career three decades ago???), but I think this book may be it.
"Is there any phrase more ominous than you need to see exactly what you’ve done? I couldn’t think of one offhand."
5 stars without hesitation for this excellent impossible-to-put-down book. Sai King, I will continue to be your Constant Reader for hopefully many more years to come, Capital-L Literature or not.
"If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples."

Thank you, Steve. You were wrong all those years ago when you said you weren't very good at writing about love and intimacy. The love story here is full of honesty and tenderness. When I got to the last couple of pages, I was crying so hard I couldn't read.

11/22/63 is a supernatural, quasi-historical, philosophical, science-fiction love story.
If you're avoiding it because you think Stephen King only writes horror, please reconsider. There's no horror here, aside from a couple of mild gross-out scenes.

I know my experience would have been cheapened by knowing too much beforehand, so I'm not going to tell you what it's about in the style of a traditional book review. Be it on someone else's head to spoil your fun.

So why should you read it?

*There is DANCING!

*There is time travel -- Stephen King-style, with some original twists on the old device.

*There is a special treat for fans of It, King's novel about Pennywise the Clown.

*There is a charming (yet brutally honest) portrayal of American life in the late 50s and early 60s.

*There is DANCING!

*There is pie-throwing!

*There is sweet romance without sappiness.

*There is poundcake!

*There is derring-do! (With poundcake for afters.)

*There is insight into Lee Harvey Oswald and his associates, and their activities prior to 11/22/63.

*There is DANCING!

*There is a subtle but amazing use of "the past" as a character with an agenda of its own.

*There is snappy dialogue laced with humor.

*There is high school theater.

*And there is DANCING! Because dancing is life.

Thanks again, Steve. There's always room for you on my dance card.

I'll be honest here. It's really rare that I get through a book over 500 pages, let alone 700 (Nook pages). It's also true that I have never read a single thing from Mr. King until now. Why? 
I'm not sure. Maybe his books intimidated me, because when I was younger everyone was always talking to me about how his books were so long, and blah blah. Anyway, I am proud to say that 11/22/63 was my first book read by Stephen King. I hear it's so much different than his other work, but I also haven't met a single person that didn't love it. I read this book because everybody and their brother was recommending it to me as a "must read". I'm also not a big historical fiction fan, and didn't know how much I would enjoy reading about 20 years before my birth. I had nothing to worry about.

Here is a book that you never want to end, yet you do want it to end, because you need to know what is going to happen. King introduces us to a man named Jake who insists that he is not emotionless despite the fact that he doesn't cry often. I can relate to him right off the bat. Not a big crier, but I definitely feel emotions on a huge level. Jake is sent back to 1963 with a plan made up by a guy named Al who owns a local diner, and has the "rabbit hole" which is how they travel back in time. At first his mission is just to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating JFK, but then little things pop up here and there making him consider a few new things that need to be changed. I'm not going into any more detail than that, because I don't want to give away one single thing in this brilliant novel. Fans of his story "It" may be excited to know he revisits the town of Derry, Maine, where "It" was located.

The excitement and suspense in this book were astonishing. I held my breath in anticipation of certain things Jake had to do, and then some twist would come out of left field, and I would continue reading in awe. There were also several sighs of relief and a couple of cute moments involving Jake's romance that just made me say "aww".

I do feel like there were a rough 100ish pages that dragged on somewhere in the middle, and the book may have benefited by taking out a few things, but obviously I'm no expert. That's just my opinion. Again, this may have also been just something I was feeling, because I was very impatient and really wanting to know how this book would end. Some people didn't like the ending, but I loved it!

In the afterword King discusses his research a bit. You can most definitely tell that a lot of research and thought went into this novel. The descriptions are vivid and when I say you are really transported back to the 60's I mean it. You will feel it.

11/22/63 is a truly memorable, wonderfully written book that I have already recommended to several family members and friends, and I will continue to recommend for years to come. This is another of King's books that I could see as a film, too. If you are wanting to try a Stephen King book, but don't know if you will like all the horror, read this! It is not like that at all.

*sigh*... I'm so upset that it's over... You got me at the ending there, Stephen. You really, truly got me. What can I possibly say about this wonderful, beautiful book? That it's wonderful and beautiful? No. That's no where near enough praise.
 This book made it up to my top 3 favorites list by King (placing at #3) and is probably my favorite book of 2011 (if not tied with Shutter Island). Reading this book, I was so worried about what the ending would be (because, let's be honest here, we know King isn't the best at handling endings... Exhibit A: Under the Dome), and I had a really strong feeling I knew what the ending would be, but that ending was just absolutely amazing... It left everything wrapped up nicely, and was one of his better endings, if not his best (or at least my favorite, even though it's not wrapped up with a pretty bow). The last chapter made me grin ear to ear, but then it left me feeling sad beyond words can describe. To be honest, after I turned the last page (or better yet, clicked, since I own a Kindle), I just sat there and bawled my eyes out, to the point where my husband got worried about me. Yeah... It was that sad. The characters in this book couldn't be better, and I really, truly mean that. I loved every single character (with the exception of Lee Harvey Oswald... Poor Marina...). I loved George/Jake's students, I loved George/Jake, I loved Sadie, I loved Miz Mimi, and much more. I also really liked the purpose of the character the Card Man, even for the very short time he was in the book (I would have liked King to expand a bit more on that, but hey, the book's almost 1000 pages), but the real star in this book was the relationship between George/Jake and Sadie. Their love for each other was undeniable and irrevocable, and just so darn beautiful. Who would have thought that the Stephen King we all know and love (at least I know and love him) could write a beautiful and touching romance alongside a thriller. That was a great shock, and I hope he incorporates this skill of weaving a good relationship into a lot more of his books to come. Being a huge King fan, I couldn't wait for this book to come out. But, in all fairness, I didn't expect to love it. I thought it would be average, maybe even "just okay", but let me tell you... I really, really loved this book.

And if you aren't a King fan, please (pretty please) don't let that stop you from reading this book. This book has absolutely no scary parts, for those of you who abstain from reading Stephen King's books because they are classified as horror, and, like I mentioned earlier on in this review, I actually cried at the end of the book (the first time that I've ever cried while reading a King novel). You can tell that Stephen King put a lot of effort into writing 11/22/63, and his details of life in the late 50's and early 60's really made me wish I was alive then. So, please, even if you don't like Stephen King, read this! It's an absolutely beautiful book, and one I wish I can read for the first time all over again.

And if you're still not convinced to read this, would it help if I told you that there's.... Poundcake? ;)

PS: You will probably want a box of tissues handy towards the end. And if you're listening to the audiobook, maybe two boxes.

For those wondering, these are my top 3 favorite King books:

#1: It
#2: The Shining
#3: (this may shock some people...) previously The Stand. Now it's 11/22/63

“If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples. I'll love your face no matter what is looks like. Because it's yours”

"The past is obdurate for the same reason a turtle's shell is obdurate: because the living flesh inside is tender and defenseless"

"Home is watching the moon rise over the open, sleeping land and having someone you can call to the window, so you can look together. Home is where you dance with others, and dancing is life."

“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don't we all secretly know this? It's a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10644930-11-22-63

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