Thursday, September 11, 2014

REVIEW: 11-22-63 by Stephen King

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Series: NA
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Craig Wasson

Hallelujah! I finished a Stephen King book – FINALLY. He’s such an iconic author and the stories he tells should be right up my alley but I’ve struck out twice with him (The Stand [I WILL finish it] and The Gunslinger). 11/22/63 seemed like the subject matter might be a little less dark than King's usual fare and I thought it might suit me a bit better. I was (mostly) right!

The story is that of Jake Epping alias George Amberson who is somewhat abruptly recruited to help stop the assassination of John Kennedy. The twist? Jake is a high school teacher in 2011, so this assignment requires him to travel back in time through a “rabbit hole” in the pantry of his friend Al’s diner. Anybody that goes through this rabbit hole comes out in the fall of 1958. Jake proceeds to have many, many, many, many, many adventures on his way to stopping Lee Harvey Oswald’s dastardly deed.

Why so many manys? Because this book felt like 4 books under one cover. Jake first goes to Darry, Maine to try and prevent a tragedy of a friend from 2011. Than he does it again when he fails the first time (every time through the rabbit hole is a reset). Then he spends some time in Florida, writing a book and passing some time. Then he moves to a nice town in Texas and takes up teaching again and falls in love and makes lots of friends, then he moves to Dallas and spends a whole bunch of time spying on Lee Harvey Oswald, then the woman he loves has some trouble and he has to help her, then he has some trouble and she has to help him, then they get to the part where he tries to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. I kept wanting to shake the book and yell “FOCUS, please!” Each part of the book was satisfying in and of itself but they felt very disparate and also wildly differed in tone. Lee Harvey Oswald doesn’t really make an appearance until half way through this very long book. I liked all the components and Jake is a likeable character to spend time with through it all but I kept feeling like it would have been a stronger book if it had been more focused.

With that complaint out of the way however, there is no denying that it was an enjoyable way to spend 30 hours of drive time. The writing is great and the time travel conundrums and issues are interesting and well thought out. The research done for the Kennedy assassination part of the book seemed incredibly detailed and was intimately portrayed. It was interesting and disturbing looking into the life of Lee Harvey Oswald and why he eventually did what he did. I found the ultimate end of the book very satisfying and well played. It is obvious also that King feels fondness and some pretty massive nostalgia for the era and this added charm and richness to the setting.

The reader for the audio book was okay though he sounded a little too old for the main character (Jake is meant to be in his mid-30s at the start, while the narrator sounds like he’s in his 60s [he was in fact in his late fifties]) and he occasionally sounds like he’s doing impressions rather than giving a character a unique voice. There’s a FBI agent towards the end that sounds suspiciously like Jimmy Stewart.

Final Verdict: Perhaps too long and unfocused but a hell of a lot of fun anyway.

This book is on my 100 books project list.

 This counts in the Alternative History Category

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