11/22/63 (Review)


Stephen King, 2011
880 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October, 2013
It's long, 880 pages—the author takes his time in this book—which means you might as well just settle in. And unless it's a fast-paced thriller you're after, you won't be disapointed.

Fans know King as a master of horror. But in 11/22/63 he shows his chops across a range of genres—realism, historical fiction, romance, suspense, philosophy, and speculative fiction (i.e., time travel)—and, no surprise, he's good at all of it.

Roughly, the story involves Jake Epping, an English teacher, who goes back in time to prevent President Kennedy's assassination. The quest hinges on the nature of time and how it operates in the service of history. That's the philosophy part.

The suspense part is that time keeps on keeping' on: it doesn't like being mucked about with. To keep Jake from altering the timeline, all sorts of obstacles get thrown in his path: a fallen tree, illness, stalled car. If the change is major, time only tosses in bigger obstacles.

Then there's romance. Jake is a bit of a loser, a loner whose alcoholic wife left him for a man she met in AA! But he's kind and decent, and we're firmly on his side. When he travels back in time, he meets Sadie the Librarian, and the two fall in love. Their time together—working with their students and simply reveling in the music, food, and stuff of life in the early 1960s—is one of the best sections of the book. That's both historical fiction and realism at work.

It would be wrong to spoil the outcome, to reveal whether or not Jake stops Oswald and saves the president. (Suspense kicks into hyper-drive here.) But suffice it to say that things—history—get complicated. Ultimately, it comes down to whether one individual, one action, can alter the chain of events, whether history can be neatly contained, or whether a "butterfly effect" prevails.

A lot has been said about the prodigious length of the book, many complaining that it drags in parts and could have used a decent cut. There's truth to this. But overall, 11/22/63 is a book to lose yourself in, to think about the nature of history, and to enjoy a ripping good tale.

P.S. Because of its length, this might be a two-month project for book clubs: split it up and do half one month, half the next.

See our Reading Guides for 11/22/63.


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