Why bother having a blog related to time travel fiction if you don’t review a work of time travel fiction once in a while? That said, I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. For the first time in years, I can say that in 11/22/63 I picked up a Stephen King novel that I could not put down. I think the last time I was able to say that was way back in 1998 when he released Bag of Bones.
In 2011, English teacher Jake Epping’s diner-owning acquaintance Al Templeton lets him in on a little secret: there’s a rip, or a rabbit hole, or a bubble in time of some sort living in the back of his diner. This little portal into the past always opens to the same place on the same date at the same time: Septemer 9, 1958. Al tells Jake about this not just for kicks, but because for two minutes of present time and five years of the past, Al has been plotting to use the trip in time to track Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin.
Al’s ultimate goal–which is the same goal to which any time traveler in a similar situation might aspire–was to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy, thereby putting right what once went wrong (to quote another famous time traveler). Unfortunately, years of Fatburgers and cigarette smoke have caught up with Templeton, and he is unable to complete the mission himself because he is overcome by the nasty final stages of lung cancer.
Enter Jake, who eventually takes Templeton’s place as the would-be Oswald-stopper, only to find it’s not so easy to change history. In fact, the past fights against the time traveler. Add to that the relationships and love for the late 1950s and early 1960s that Jake develops along the way, and changing the past becomes more difficult than ever (or too easy, depending on how you look at it).
All in all, 11/22/63 is vintage King. He baits you with the concept, hooks you with the internal monologue and likability of his central character, then reels you in with all the twists, turns, chaos, and beauty of masterful tale telling. You even get reacquainted with some old friends from another vintage King tale along the way. Unlike some of the repeat characters in that sprawling Dark Tower megaverse, Jake’s encounter with a young girl and boy who once fought an evil clown is elemental to one of the story’s significant subplots.
11/22/63 was the first novel I downloaded to the new Nook tablet I received for Christmas last year. At first I worried about that. I wanted my Nook tablet reading experience to be a grand one, and I knew that–as a longtime King fan–I had been disappointed by his previous several novel efforts (the short story collections are a different matter). However, my decision turned out to be a great one. Honestly, 11/22/63 made the very new experience of reading an entire novel for pleasure on a 7-inch electronic device feel as close as you can get to curling up with a thick printed book and subsequently falling Myst-like into an entirely different world.
Experiencing 11/22/63 was reading without being aware of the fact that you’re reading. And that is exactly what first drew me to King’s work back in 1987 and kept me reading all these years.