“The past is obdurate. It doesn’t want to change.”
That’s the verse that was repeated over and over as I moved through the time travel tune of Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” I read this 849-page book a few months ago, and much to my surprise, I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be.
Set in 2011, the book centers on the idea of a post-1963 society that isn’t tarnished by the John F. Kennedy assassination. What would the world have been like, had Lee Harvey Oswald been stopped in his tracks? That’s the exact question posed by Al, owner of a diner based in Lisbon Falls, Maine. After Al befriends main character Jake Epps, he introduces Jake to the “rabbit hole,” a time portal found in the back of his diner.
Out of curiosity, Jake takes a trip down the rabbit hole and cannot believe his eyes. Each time someone goes down the rabbit hole, they’ll find themselves in the same spot at the same time: two minutes before noon on Sept. 9, 1958 in Lisbon Falls. In utter disbelief, Jake returns to 2011 with a number of questions to ask Al, who then drops the bomb on him — Al is terminally ill with cancer, and he needs someone to travel back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination from happening.
After much doubt, Jake accepts the challenge.
To be honest, I struggled with the premise of why Al wanted Jake to return to 1963 to prevent the Kennedy assassination from taking place. He didn’t have a reason to give except, “The world will be a better place.” But what if the future isn’t a better place after all? (Of course, you don’t find out until the end of the novel.)
The journey Jake takes to reach Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 is intriguing. I especially enjoyed reading about Jake’s adventures, throughout which King combines science fiction with romance, history, mystery and action to create a driven plot that is far from the horror stories for which he is typically known. But as Lev Grossman wrote in his review for Time magazine, “The build-up is better than the payoff, as it almost always is.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Have you read “11/22/63?” What did you think? Feel free to leave a comment.