January 30, 2012


A Novel
by Stephen King
752 pages, Hodder & Stoughton

Review by  Paul Fenton

I keep putting off reviewing this book, and it has nothing to do with the story, or the characters, or the author ... it’s just that when I start a review, I usually like to lead in with the book’s title, and this one I keep forgetting.

11.22.63 by Stephen King.  There, now I have a handy reference point. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I’m sure to American readers it is immediately recognisable as a date, and a historic one at that; but when I read those numbers, two possibilities spring to mind:

1.      Bust, waist and hip measurements for a human pear

2.      NFL offensive play-calls

The second possibility makes very little sense, because I’m obviously not American and I know nothing about the NFL.  But still, there it is: 11.22.63, hup hup!

As recent Stephen King books go, it’s good, it’s different, I liked it.  At 752 pages, it’s also looooong – but we expect that when we pick up a new King book, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

The protagonist in the story is Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who travels back in time through the portal in his local diner’s storeroom to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Yeah, it sounds really silly when you blurt it all out like that.  It sounds like it might have been written as a follow-up to “Zombie Shape-Shifters from Jupiter Attack!” When I first read the story’s synopsis I thought: really?  You sure about this one, Steve? I suppose he was sure, because he’s got 752 pages of Jake Epping to argue in his favour. All those pages go a long way to building the characters, setting the scene, making us perhaps not quite believe in the “rabbit hole” as he calls it, but at least helping us accept it for the duration. Putting the time travel concept to one side, and all the paradoxes and butterfly effects it entails, 11.22.63 is more about the ethics and consequences of meddling with the past than it is about “WTF?  How did I end up in 1959?” Jake, now known as George Amberson, sets himself up as a teacher in a town outside of Dallas, gets a girlfriend, becomes entwined in the lives and loves and losses in the little town of Jody.

At some stage during the vast middle part of the story, I fell out of touch. Sure, there are the trips into Dallas where George Amberson rents a house across the street from Lee Harvey Oswald and all the associated tension and exciting historical detail, but still…it felt like there were two distinct stories in the book. The first is the story of Jake Epping, sent back to 1959 to gather enough intelligence to convince himself that Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed a lone gunman, and then stop him from killing Kennedy; the second is the story of George Amberson, high school English teacher and director of the school play and love interest of Sadie the librarian. As a reader, the success of the book is judged by how much you fall in love with George Amberson and Sadie Dunhill – Jake Epping’s quest to save JFK seems at times almost secondary. Still a good read for all that, and a good strong finish, provided you make it through that dry middle bit.

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