I have been on a little bit of a break from blogging, but for good reason–I was reading! 11/22/63 was my first Stephen King novel, and let me tell ya, it’s a good one to start with!
One of my co-workers is not much of a reader, but he came to work with this book about half read (It’s a whopping 849 pages!) and was ecstatic about this book. So I did what any other book nerd does; I went out a bought it.
The book begins in the year 2011, where our main character, Jake Epping is a divorced 30-something English teacher with no aspirations. His friend Al Templeton owns the diner in town and has a secret. Jake sees him one week and he looks normal. The next week, he looks like he’s aged about 10 years and has a deathly cough. Al convinces Jake to try out the “rabbit hole” he found in a back closet of his diner. The rabbit hole is a time-portal. One minute, Jake’s inside a burger-smelling diner in the year 2011, the next, he’s stepping out into a sunny small town in Maine, in the year 1958.
Al made several trips back and forth between the 2 worlds, but he became too sick to finish out his main mission–to save President Kennedy. Al gives Jake all of his notes and advice and persuades Jake to finish out the job. There’s just one catch–the “rabbit hole” begins in 1958, and Kennedy is not assassinated until 1963. If Jake leaves the past and goes back to the diner, he has only missed 2 minutes of 2011, but everything will reset if he re-enters the past. Meaning, he must stay 5 years in the past to save the President and prevent the Vietnam War.
Along with saving the President, Jake wants to also save one of his adult student’s family. Harry Dunning was taking Jake’s class to get his G.E.D. and working as a janitor. His essay tugs at Jake’s heart. Harry tells his story about his father and how he brutally murdered Harry’s whole family. This event occurs within the first year that Jake goes back in time, so he plans to save the family and kill Harry’s father.
After much waiting and living as alias George Amberson, Jake finally reaches the night that Harry’s life will be changed forever. Jake is able to save everyone except one of Harry’s brothers from their drunken father’s sledgehammer. Jake is devastated, yet determined to try again. He steps back into the rabbit hole and tries to find Al, only to find he has killed himself and left a note for Jake, to finish what he started. Jake decides to go back into yes–1958. This time, he succeeds, saving everyone in Harry’s family.
While waiting out his time until he can get close to Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jake/George begins teaching at a high school. He meets the love of his life, Sadie Dunhill. She becomes a vital character to the story and alters time forever by getting involved in Jake’s plot to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
The book took quite awhile for me to get into it. There is a lot of time-travel set-up and explanation at the beginning and of course, LOTS of descriptive details. Once I got to the first murder though, I was hooked.
King uses a few recurring words in this novel, one of them being the “obdurate past.” The past is obdurate because it doesn’t want to be changed. Jake is in 1958 in order to change the course of history, but the past does not want to change. All sorts of obstacles get in the way to prevent Jake from changing the past, especially at the end with Oswald.
I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you are committed for the long haul. I almost put the book down for good about 200 pages in, but like I said, once the first murder happened, I was all in. I’ve haven’t been so immersed in the characters of a book like this in a long time, and all those 849 pages were worth it.
I give this novel a 5/5.