Becky’s Ninety-Second Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

If you could go back in time, would you? The even bigger question is, if you could change the past, would you? This is a question that Jake Epping is asked by a friend, Al Templeton when Al summons Jake to his diner after school lets out for the summer. Jake the English teacher soon realizes that Al is serious, he believes that there is a ‘rabbit hole’ in the back of his diner that will take Jake into the past–to September 9th, 1958 to be exact. Al is dying and therefore eager to convince Jake that the rabbit hole exists. Jake makes a skeptical journey, buys a root beer, and comes back still not quite believing that he traveled back to 1958. No matter how long a person is in the rabbit hole, when they return to the present only two minutes has passed.

Al charges Jake with a mission–go back to 1958 and prevent the assassination of JFK. Al goes on to sell the idea to Jake explaining how if JFK never died, then so many other events wouldn’t have happened. “Oh, I’m talking about a lot more than that, because this ain’t some butterfly in China, buddy. I’m also talking about saving RFK’s life, because if John lives in Dallas, Robert probably does run for president in 1968. The country wouldn’t have been ready to replace one Kennedy with another.” “You don’t know that for sure.” “No, but listen. Do you think that if you save John Kennedy’s life, his brother Robert is still at the Ambassador Hotel at twelve-fifteen in the morning on June fifth, 1968? And even if he is, is Sirhan Sirhan still working in the kitchen?…Or what about Martin Luther King? Is he still in Memphis in April of ’68? even if he is, is he still standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel at exactly the right time for James Earl Ray to shoot him?…And if MLK lives, the race riots that followed his death don’t happen. Maybe Fred Hampton does get shot in Chicago…For that matter, maybe there’s no Symbionese Liberation Army. No SLA, no Patty Hearst kidnapping. No Patty Hearst kidnapping, a small but maybe significant reduction in black fear among middle-class whites.” (11/22/63, pg 61-62). Al doesn’t see a downside and is able to talk Jake into going back to 1958 once again.

I have always enjoyed reading Stephen King’s novels and I typically read them very quickly. “11/22/63” was no different, I devoured the book, all 849 pages. I was hooked from the very beginning. I have wanted to read this book for awhile and went through two Christmases without being given it as a gift. So I decided to buy it. It was an awesome decision. “11/22/63” was quite a page turner.

Jake was provided several key items from Al including a drivers’ license from 1958 with a new identity. Jake went down the rabbit hole and became George Amberson. He then went on quite a journey. Jake/George was interested in whether or not he really could make the changes that Al thought were worthwhile so he went on a mini-mission to discover if he could save a whole family from being murdered. This is an event that occurred in Derry, Maine which any Stephen King fan would recognize as the setting for the book “It”. Two main characters from “It” make an appearance in “11/22/63”, Beverly and Richie. I love when Stephen King intertwines the different fictional worlds that he writes about. He does it quite a lot but it is usually rather subtle. Only the most devoted Stephen King fans are likely to notice all the similarities.

I really enjoyed reading a book written in this perspective. You had a character who was alive in 2011 and then got to go back in time to 1958. He recognizes all the differences between the two worlds and they are seemingly different worlds. The food is less artificial, the air is different, people talk differently…for the first part of the book Jake/George is talking about all the wonderful experiences he is having in 1958. He paints it as an ideal world and it isn’t until he stops and asks to use the bathroom that he notices a sign and realizes not all was well and good in 1958. There is a bathroom for ‘whites only’ and then a sign that says ‘colors’. Jake/George followed the sign to see where it led and there was a board across a creek. So if a guy needed to use the bathroom and didn’t fall into the ‘white only’ category, he had the option of peeing into a creek or if he had to do more than that, he could sit on a board and take care of business. Growing up in my generation, I never really saw anything like that. I was born in 1987 and it truly was a different world from that that Jake/George describes when he is in 1958. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

Jake/George paints a very interesting picture of 1958. Since the mission that Al has sent him on will not happen until 1963, he has to wait. In order to fill the time, Jake/George decides to get another teaching job after obtaining a bootleg degree. It is when Jake/George is teaching that he really starts to make a difference in so many lives. At this point, Jake/George is no longer worried about the butterfly effect since he is planning on making such a major change by saving JFK. While he is teaching in Jodie (a small town that feels so much like home to Jake/George), he meets a woman–Sadie. Soon his story is not so much focused on saving JFK and changing the world, but on being with Sadie.

I found the entire book to be very entertaining. When Jake/George was trying to decide what changes he could make without upsetting the overall balance of the world and when Jake/George is focused more on the small things in life, like his life in Jodie and his relationship with Sadie. “11/22/63” is very well written. I would highly recommend it to most people. Even those who don’t usually gravitate towards Stephen King would probably enjoy this book. There is not nearly as much horror as in his other books and it makes it more accessible and a great read.     

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