Author: Stephen King
Published: November 2011
Genre(s): historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, romance
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
This book is amazing on so many levels. My new fave genre-mash is historical fiction + sci-fi/ fantasy.
For those that were old enough to know what happened on 11/22/63, the assassination of JFK is still a raw wound 53 years later. For those of us born afterwards, as the narrator Jake Epping notes, it’s merely a date in history to memorize and regurgitate on a test. Those who lived during those [Cold War] years, like my mother, still remember the daily fear they felt and the sirens and practice drills (i.e. running home really fast) for the possible “Russian missiles,” even in Calgary, Canada!!
When King is good, he’s good. And after this book he’s now one of my favourite authors! This is a lonnnnng-ass book (1080 pages!) but it has such good flow, one feels like they could read it forever. I commented to a co-worker that I was afraid that after putting all of this time into the book I might hate the ending, and I would be so disappointed because I was really enjoying the ride.
The organization of the narrative is wonderful, as the main character draws you in by acknowledging his part in this evolving story (very meta, as the kids say). During an extremely tense situation, while a threatening character was telling a story, Jake doesn’t attack him because, “That’s the curse of the reading class. We can be seduced by a good story even at the least opportune moments” (p. 260).
The research King did not only about the assassination, but about the years between 1958 and 1963 was so well done that you feel like you’re back in time as well, which I know sounds cliché, but little lines like: “They… own more acres in this town… than Carter has liver pills” (p. 214) are awesome. Such a random statement for 2016, but my dad, a kid in the 1950’s, had the nickname Carter’s Liver Pills (Liver Pills for short) because his last name was Carter, and liver pills were apparently a big deal back in the day! (Weird, I know.)
I won’t say anything too specific about 11/22/63 other than to say I, as a reader born in 1978, loved this book. And I want my mom (b. 1950) to read it too, but I know she’ll be reading a different book than I did. King’s research came alive to me, but it will remind my mom of a painful part of her history. Not to mention she has recently discovered YouTube and conspiracies of EVERY TYPE, starting with the JFK assassination.
Also, Hulu has made this into a mini-series, and if anyone has seen it, please comment below! I'm interested to see if the tone and characters match the chemistry and suspense that King painstakingly cultivated.
Thanks for reading!
~ Spinning Jenny