Sunday, June 24, 2012

11-22-63: A Novel

11-22-63: A Novel by Stephen King

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
 Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

--11-22-63: A Novel
by Stephen King
Copyright © 2011 by Stephen King
Published by Scribner

My Review

In previous reviews, I’ve compared a story’s pace to a roller coaster ride.  You have that thrill of anticipation as you climb that first hill, higher and higher, the tension growing and growing until you finally crest the top, hanging there for that long, breathless second, and then the fast plummet to earth, through all the hills valleys and twists and turns until you finally arrive back at the station, exhausted, exhilarated and out of breath.

This is one of the longest and slowest-to-climb roller coasters in the entire world.

But it is soooo worth the ride!

We meet Jake Epping, a high school English teacher and his friend, Al Templeton, who owns a diner in town.  The last day of school, Al calls the school and asks Jake to come by.  He does and is shocked at what he finds.  Al has literally changed overnight.  Where the day before a healthy, sixty-something year old guy had been is now a withered shell of a man, dying of lung cancer.  Al lets Jake in on his secret.  There’s a time tunnel, which he calls a rabbit hole, in the back of his supply closet.  He stumbled on it one day and found himself back in time, specifically September 9, 1958, around noon.  Oddly, every time he went down the rabbit hole, it would always be the exact same date at the exact same time.  No matter what he did in 1958, if he returned to 2011 and then went back, he’d be at the exact same time and date and everything would be reset.  And upon coming back to 2011, only two minutes would have passed.  No matter how long you spend in 1958, when you return it’ll be two minutes later than when you left.

Jake, of course, doesn’t believe him, until he goes down the staircase himself and finds himself in 1958.  He explores (wouldn’t we all?) and returns.  He’s thrilled, but why is Al telling him all this?  And how did he get so sick so fast?

I went down the rabbit hole and stayed, he said.  There was something I wanted to do.  I was there for over four years, but then I got sick and now I want you to do it.

Do what? Jake asks.

Stop the Kennedy assassination.

Given the title of the book, it’s easy to surmise that the Kennedy assassination would be a major part of the story.  And, of course, it is.  But the main focus is really Jake and how he lives those five years between September 9, 1958 and November 22, 1963.  It is a testament to King’s skill as a story teller that he keeps the reader engaged in the seemingly mundane yet fascinating details of Jake’s life while at the same time slowly building tension about the red-letter day to come.  The thrill you’ll get while plummeting down that first, steep  roller coaster hill will be well worth the wait.  And just when you think you’ve come to the end of the ride, the tracks plunge you down off the edge of the earth into a future too terrifying to imagine.

I give this story FOUR and a HALF STARS.

Why not five stars if I enjoyed it so much?  At over 800 pages in hardback form, it’s an extremely long story.  I enjoyed living Jake’s life with him, but there was just so much of it.  I think some of it could have been removed without affecting the telling of the story.  Hmm…okay, four and three-quarters stars.

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