Monday, November 14, 2011
Book Review - 11/22/63
Author: Stephen King
Date Released: November 8, 2011
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Review: 5 out of 5 stars:
Jake Epping is a small town English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Childless and divorced from his alcoholic ex-wife, he takes pleasure in eating at local Al's Diner and the occasional decent essay from his students. One assignment, "The Day That Changed My Life," written by a GED student who also happens to be the mentally disabled janitor will come back to haunt him.
Al Templeton owns the local diner that most of Lisbon Falls avoids. The prices are eerily low and Al's famous "Fatburger" is rumored to probably be "catburger" with a price of that just can't be possible in 2011. And there's just something off about the little aluminum trailer that comprises the local joint where you can get a Fatburger Special with fries and a milkshake for $1.19.
Al and Jake come together at the end of the school year in 2011 as Jake is grading his American Honors Poetry class' essays after school lets out on the final day in June. Al calls him and asks him to come down to the diner and Jake, more out of curiosity than anything else, complies, where he finds Al five years older and clearly very sick. Which can't possibly be because he was just in the diner yesterday and Al was fine. What Al shows him could possibly change the world.
Coughing up blood from an advanced stage of terminal lung cancer, Al shows Jake a secret passageway back to Tuesday, September 9, 1958. The passageway always leads to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958. And every trip back resets the clock.
Al asks Jake to change history by removing Lee Harvey Oswald from the Texas Book Depository on that fateful day that Kennedy was assassinated.
The Kennedy assassination is often described as a "watershed" moment - a moment where history changes drastically. If no assassination, Kennedy might not have escalated the conflict in Vietnam the way that Johnson did after assuming the Presidency. Almost 60,000 men not killed in action. Robert Kennedy wouldn't have been killed by Sirhan Sirhan, because Robert Kennedy wouldn't have needed to run for President. Martin Luther King might not have been in Memphis and standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on the night that James Earl Ray was there to shoot him, meaning no race riots. The ripple effect of that one watershed moment where Lee Harvey Oswald takes aim through the sixth floor window of the book depository and either hits the President with his third shot or doesn't will have effects that absolutely no one can predict.
Jake needs further convincing before committing to such a huge task. He remembers the essay written by Harry Dunning, the school janitor known as "Hoptoad Harry" because of the residual brain damage from his drunken father trying to kill him with a hammer. Jake decides he needs to see if you really can change the past by going back and stopping Mr. Dunning from killing Harry's mother, brothers, and sister, and disabling Harry for life with his hammer.
After a successful trip back that changes the outcome of the Dunning family, Jake knows that he has to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. He will have to live in the past for five years to do it. What happens is King's well researched, thoughtful, insightful vision of what happened in the events leading up to Oswald's assassination attempt, whether those events could be changed, and how the past doesn't want to be changed and puts barriers in the way. What happens if you are able to change the past and do you really want to?
Although the topic of time travel has been addressed in multiples movies, books, and short stories, this particular book will make you look at it in a whole new way. You will simultaneously want to make a trip into late 1950's America (an era of unlocked doors and trust, a nicer, gentler way of life, pre-cell phone and internet and GPS) and realize that time travel isn't necessarily a good idea.
This explosive, eye opening, gripping account of how things might have played out and how one man will try to stop this watershed moment is another amazing score for King. With over 50 novels in print and multiple award winning bestsellers, King manages to knock another one out of the park with a book you won't be able to put down. Once again, his ability to be both prolific and wonderfully readable makes 11/22/63 a book you will immerse yourself in, forgetting the world around you as you travel back to a simpler time where the civil rights movement is years away and women are expected to obey their husbands and act with decorum.
The end of the book will stun you and yet not surprise you. Because the past is obdurate. And the idea that things happen for a reason is never truer than in the ending to the story.