Stephen King has always been a bit hit and miss for me – you’ve got Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption versus The Breathing Method in Different Seasons, you’ve got Misery versus Pet Semetary and numerous more examples. I’m always a little reluctant to pick up a King novel for that reason – although unjustly because when it is good, it is very good – just like 11.22.63.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you could go back in time and change that world-changing event? Stop it from happening all together? Would it be good or bad? This book answers all your questions, when the loveable Jake Epping finds a way to jump back 50 years and stop a number of events that he wished had never happened.
I for one am absolutely fascinated by the concept of time-travel – its possibilities, its logical inconsistencies, its logistical details and of course, its consequences and the so-called ‘butterfly effect’. Most time-travel literature that I have read can’t quite seem to work out their own theories – Fry’s Making History being one in mind, where the characters simply ‘don’t know’ how or why it works. At first, 11/22/63 did its fair share of ‘not knowing’ the hows and whys – an easy out for an incomplete theory of an admittedly baffling idea – Al didn’t know why he could bring money back and didn’t want to question it, for example. Slightly frustrating but I went along with it.
Of course, King being the king (ahem) of stories that he is, he wouldn’t dream of leaving such issues so glaringly obvious and clears them all up at the end, tying everything together with some fantastic explanations and a clear picture. Thus King is not only forgiven, but revered. The plot was nothing short of fantastic and kept me awake long into the night – not in the usual page-turning kind of way but long after I had put the book down, as my brain wouldn’t stop flicking through ideas, possibilities, explanations, and solutions to Jake’s problems. I hardly stopped thinking about it all, in fact.
The characters themselves are typical King characters – full, rounded, personable – characters that you can really believe in and I would genuinely like to meet Al, Jake, Sadie, and Deke. The romance can’t help but make you feel good, even if it is a little overly soppy, and it adds an extra dimension to an already deep and complex plot.
The narrative too is so smooth that you soon forget that you are reading at all and you are transported back to America in the late 50s and early 60s (such an idyllic place, King would have you believe, bar a bit of excessive smoking and the odd example of rampant racism).
The only problem I could find with it at all, in fact, were the numerous references and jokes regarding American culture that I simply didn’t understand – not King’s problem of course, but my own. Oh, and of course, the title should have been changed to 22.11.63 for its British publication – something I know that many publishers do. The increasing examples of the American-style date over here frustrate me (nothing to do with the book of course but a bug-bear that I wished to share).
This is King at his best – engrossing narrative, fantastic characters and a clear, consistent plot. This novel comes well recommended.