(2011) Stephen King, Hodder, pbk, 740pp, ISBN 978-1-444-72733-3
The title represents the date in popular American format, as opposed to in the British format of successively larger time intervals, or even the US American officialdom’s format (day, month, year), of Friday 22nd of November 1963. This is an infamous date that has gone down in history - it is the day that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, died by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas.
The first thing to make clear about this book is that it is not yet another account of the assassination, nor is it a debate about conspiracy theories - it is a time travel story in which our hero goes back to that fateful day and tries to stop it from happening. The second thing to say is that this paperback edition (2012 - the hardback came out in 2011) is big - really big. And heavy. The way the tale is constructed it could easily have been split and published as a multi-volume story so I found that it helped to think of this as the omnibus edition; the whole tale between just one pair of covers.
The story starts in 2011 when Jake Epping, an English teacher in the town of Lisbon Falls, Maine, receives a call from Al Templeton, owner of a local burger joint that he frequents. Jake is more than a little surprised to find that since he saw him yesterday, Al has aged considerably and is suddenly in the final stages of cancer. That, Al explains, is because it has been several years since yesterday. He goes on to explain that at the back of his diner is a hole in time; it has the interesting feature that it always takes you back to 11:58 am on the 9th of September 1958 and that, whilst you can spend as long as you like in the past, you always return just two minutes after you left. Al has been experimenting, flitting back and forth, and found that you can change events though, because you always go back to the same moment, each trip back resets history to 'normal'; any good deeds you do on one trip will need repeating on subsequent trips if they are to “stick”. He had decided that the world would be a better place if Kennedy had not been assassinated and so stayed in the past to prevent Oswald’s deed; it was then that age and a lifetime of heavy smoking caught up with him and he realised that he would not live to complete his task. He has returned to the present and wishes Jake to take on his mission.
After a quick trip to 1958 to verify Al’s story, Jake decides to fulfil his friend’s dying wish and returns to the past. First he “corrects” a couple of bad incidents, ensuring that certain people will go on to have better lives than they were otherwise destined to, then he settles down to the long wait as he lives through from 1958 to 1963.
By now I was 270 pages in, it was still only 1959, and I realised that certain deadlines were creaping up on me, not the least of which was Christmas and all that that entails. I had nearly 500 pages still to read and I would not be finishing before the due date for the review. So what do I think of it so far?
It had all been very well written and the story was moving gently along, but moving really rather too gently. Assuming it has the same pace throughout, this takes a very long time to tell a not that long story. If you are looking for a long, enjoyably written book to entertain you as you sit by your holiday pool for a week or two, then this will do fine. If you are looking for something that will grab you and drag you along with it, that you will not want to put down, then you will find this very tame.
See Jonathan's separate take on 11.22.63.
Other Stephen King reviews on this site include: Bag of Bones, Black House, Cell,Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4, The Dark Tower Vol.7, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, Dream Catcher, Duma Key, Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey’s Story, Song of Susannah and Wolves of the Calla. For other reviews (including more recent King ones) see the fiction reviews index which is alphabetical by author (link below).
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