I’m a fan of Stephen King, although 11/22/63 (2011) was the first work of his I have picked up in awhile. This novel returns to themes he’s explored in The Dead Zone (what if you could prevent a horrible, world-altering tragedy by murdering someone?) and it features a brief interlude in Derry, Maine, where It takes place. For better (mostly) and for worse (some of the time), the novel showcases King’s quirks as an author.
In 11/22/63, English teacher Jake Epping (living in the present day) is shown a porthole to the past–to September, 1958, to be specific. Persuaded that he can prevent the calamity of Vietnam, Jake travels back in time with the mission of assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald, before Oswald can assassinate Kennedy in Dallas.
Of course, there is a lot of time to kill. As Jake gathers information on Oswald (he needs to ensure he acted alone), he takes a teaching job in Jodie, TX, where he falls in love with the librarian, Sadie Dunhill. Here is where some of King’s idiosyncrasies are on display. I had to laugh when I read Jake and Sadie’s “meet cute,” in which Sadie stumbles and Jake catches her by the breast. King is apparently a boob man–it’s rare to encounter a female character of his in which the breasts aren’t described in some way. King is great at writing friendships (here, Jake and fellow teachers Deke and Ellie) and less successful at writing romance (Jake and Sadie’s relationship works, but other elements of the novel are stronger). King also excels at capturing the thoughts and behaviors of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances–here, Jake’s daily experiences navigating life in the 1950s and ’60s and trying to prevent one of the most infamous assassinations in history.
Of course, with King, spookiness is the main attraction. In a nice twist, Lee Harvey Oswald is not terrifying but rather aggravating (he’s unable to even confront his overbearing mother, a familiar archetype to King fans). The past itself, which is “obdurate,” as Jake repeatedly muses, is what’s out to get him, as it resists change. King’s premise is also clever–Jake can go back and forth from 2011 to 1958, but each time he resets the timeline, so it quickly becomes impractical–but not impossible–for him to start over. The final choice Jake must make is unexpected and surprisingly poignant, and the book overall is worth your time.