“11.22.63” by Stephen King
Summary: 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.
Recommendation: Yes (in fact, if I could, I would give this book a dozen stars)
Not since “Bag of Bones” have I enjoyed a Stephen King novel as much as I have this one. In fact, I would say that this one may just tie with “Bag of Bones” as my top favorite book.
Touted as an alternate history/time travel novel (which is a genre I love), for me this book was more about the characters that peopled it. Stephen King’s understanding of human nature is obvious in the way his characters slip into your mind and your life. When I had to break from reading the book, I still thought about the characters; wondering what they might be doing at that moment, as if they were living human beings instead of just fictional characters.
If you’re looking for constant thrills and adventure that keep you on edge until the end of the book, this is not the book for you. While it has thrilling and edgier moments, it also has a lot of pathos, romance, and relationship building. This is a book about people caught up in situations that they want to capture, change, examine, or build. It isn’t a book about car chases, shoot outs, or winning the race; although, there are enough chases, spying, secrets, and edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you enthralled.
Overall, though, this is a book about people. To me, the core of the book was about the characters and the travails that forged their humanity. It is the Stephen King writing that I fell in love with way back at the beginning of his career. This is the magic that that I’ve always admired him for—the magic of writing real-life characters that are at times more real than the people we interact with on a daily basis.
If I could, I would give Mr. King a huge hug to thank him for giving us another of his marvelously peopled, and lovingly executed books. The ending may be bittersweet, but the book contains enough life lessons and thought-provoking insights to keep someone like me rereading it for years to come.