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February 10, 2013 / milesandhisfavorites

MAHF Reviews: 11/22/63

I’m a diehard Stephen King fan.  He’s written some of my favorite books of all time, and is my favorite author of all time.  And while it isn’t my favorite, 11/22/63 is certainly up there.

Our story follows Jake Epping, an English teacher living in the real-life town of Lisbon Falls, Maine (where Stephen King actually went to high school).  He reads a GED essay about a man whose family was murdered on Halloween night in 1958 with a sledgehammer.  Said man is the author of the essay.  As it turns out, the local diner owner (who is slowly dying of lung cancer) has a time portal to 1958 in his basement.  The owner, named Al, wants Jake to take up his mission of living in the past for five years and preventing the titular assassination of JFK on November 22nd, 1963.  Jake agrees, and has to prevent murders, make friends, and hold down teaching jobs everywhere from Florida to Texas.  But he discovers that the past may not want to be changed, and the outcomes of his actions may not always be for the better.

I absolutely ADORE the 1950s and 1960s.  The clothes, the music, the entertainment, and above all, the general feeling of optimism.  And yes, I like Chuck Berry.  That’s what sold me on reading this mega-novel (it’s not the longest book I’ve ever read, but it’s well over 800 pages) twice.  Both times I loved how King conveyed the setting.  Every page I read, I felt like I was in a small Texas town on a muggy night, with I Love Lucy playing on a round TV and a couple of teen-driven Cadillacs driving by on their way to the local drive-in.  However, the usual King cliches (evil religious people, excessive swearing, etc) slightly hamper my enjoyment of it.

However, the second-best part of the book are the well-handled characters and their relationships with one another.  You genuinely feel for the relationship of Jake and young Sadie Dunhill, and the very end is hands-down the best of any Stephen King book I’ve ever read.  Period.  Not to mention the wide variety of side characters that make up this complex and engrossing tale, from school principals to TWO diner owners named Al, to a murderer who is coincidentally the supermarket’s head butcher.  I’m not kidding.  However, the book’s third act (like so many books) ever-so-slightly spoils the broth, so to speak.  The explanation of the time portal is completely unnecessary, and while I liked exploring the dystopian future if JFK was never assassinated (don’t cry spoilers, you saw that coming), all the stuff about the Yellow Card Man wasn’t required, and was really pointless.  So, pros and cons!  Pros:

  • The time period is handled perfectly, with all the best and worst of the ’50s and ’60s on display.
  • Brilliantly written characters.
  • A fantastic romance.
  • The best King ending to date.

Cons:

  • The usual Stephen King annoyances, which I can handle, but could spoil it for you.
  • I don’t need to know the secrets of some universal time police thing that I quite frankly didn’t understand either time I read the book!

All in all, 11/22/63 isn’t my favorite book.  It isn’t even my favorite Stephen King book.  But it’s right up there with Carrie and The Stand.  I give 11/22/63 a full 10/10, and my highest recommendation.  Go check it out.  If you’re a hardened King fan, a newcomer, or just someone who likes a good period piece, you’ll find something to love.

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