11/22/63 Book Review, Stephen King
11/22/63, one of the latest masterpieces from Stephen King, is not the sort of book I would catch myself reading. It was fiction of course, but not a dwarf, dragon, orc, elf or hobbit in sight. Not one. It was the title that caught me as I browsed around in Smiths. I immediately wanted to know what this date referred to. Having researched this later on, I decided to order the book.
11/22/63 follows Jake Epping, a recently divorced English teacher living in modern-day America. Jake receives a call from a friend, Al Templeton, summoning him to meet him. All is not well, as Al appears to have an advanced state of cancer that had not been present twenty-four hours earlier. Al shows Jake a door in his diner that would transport him back to 1958; where Al had spent many years of his life. However, on returning through this ‘rabbit hole’, only two minutes will have passed, no matter how many years might have passed in the past. Eventually, Jake finds out what Al wants of him: a dying wish, to complete a mission that he himself had failed at. To prevent the assassination of President Jonathan Fraser Kennedy, on the 22nd of November, 1963. In the world of 1958, Jake (AKA George Amberson) meets more than just complications: a beautiful teacher called Sadie, who has a past of her own..
It took me a while to get started with this novel. I was finding it interesting, but fairly slow. May I say now, that I am very glad that I persisted. King has clearly put a lot of research time into this novel, and the level of detail is rich and full. It adds layers to the book, and makes it wonderfully believable. King writes in a style that is fairly removed from the authors that I would usually read, and I found it immensely and refreshing (*1). The book is written in the first person, which gives a great perspective into the thoughts of Jake Epping (AKA George Amberson); we follow as he struggles to justify the actions he comes to realise he must commit to. Not many authors have the skill to write convincingly in the first person, as complex thought chains must be written and woven into the text as an insight into the mind of our character.
The plot is just brilliant. It is complex, and some effort must be given to follow along, as I found myself reading sections of the book, then finding myself having to rewrite them as I hadn’t been taking it in properly, and was now slightly confused as to what was going on. The struggles King delivers Jake Epping are entirely believable, and it is always hanging in the balance whether or not he will succeed. King throws in some truly cruel plot twists, and I can tell you hand on heart, that I did not foresee the vast majority. The big hinge, the final twist is wonderful. Mr King, you cruel man. The ending of the book is not cliché at all, which was reassuring due to a few anticlimactic endings I’ve read lately. King manages to weave in a good few subplots as well; which contribute to, but do not take over from the main plot. The book would not be the same without the relationship Mr Amberson has with Sadie, the poundcake (*2) and the mystery of the Yellow Card Man. The story is a surprising as it is unique: I have never read a book like it.
The characters that King creates feel real. He has completed them fully enough that I feel I could have a conversation with many of them if I happened to find myself in Jodie, 1958. Obviously, King did not create all the characters; this is historical fiction! J. Kennedy, L. Oswald and de Mohreschildt are not figments of his imagination. However, King brings them to life so that they are more than names we’ve just heard on the news or in a history class. Then there’s Jake Epping himself. The way he changes as George Amberson is phenomenal. I know that its expected for a protagonist to change throughout the course of a story, but you might say that he is a different person entirely. Due to the first person style, we are privy to the struggles he faces in the actions he must commit, and we know that he doesn’t really want to do some of them. The depth of character King has portrayed in Epping is inspiring. I think that, in a way, Epping did come alive under King’s pen.. or keyboard. I think he became someone who King may not have envisaged, but just felt right with all his experiences. The depth of character on show here is clearly more than some people I know in real life have, and we don’t even know what this guy looks like.
11/22/63 was the first Stephen King book that I read. As I say, it isn’t really the sort of thing I would normally pick up. However, I enjoyed it to the extent that I will be picking up some more of his works, as his writing style is clearly something special. It’s a brilliant book, and if you’re even vaguely considering reading it after reading this review; do it. Borrow it from your local library if you really aren’t sure, because this is definitely worth giving a try. More than just a try, force yourself to keep going with it like I did – you won’t regret it. I think I will try to put a star rating on this book, as though it isn’t very descriptive, it’s a clear way of showing how good I think this book is. So:
9/10 – This book is brilliant. Well worth every minute of reading it. It’s just off of perfection as I would like to have seen a slightly happier ending. The one in the book is great, but it left me with a little bit of sorrow for ol’ George. Poor guy, eh?
(*1) Try reading out of your comfort zone sometime. It pays off great.
(*2) What’s poundcake? Best read the book!