I’m probably late to the party but that has never stopped me before, so…
11-22-63 is a novel by Stephen King about an English teacher who finds himself obliged to go back in time – as you can probably guess from the cover – to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s a very typical “late” career Stephen King book which is to say it’s very, very long; 849 pages in hardback and over 40 hours as an audiobook. It’s how I imagine Route 66: the road is long and meandering but the views are nice and what you see on the way may or may not change your life. And other times you’re going to be bored out of your skull. The writing is the sturdy, no-nonsense type of writing we’ve all come to expect from King with both the expected good and the expected bad although this book reminded me more of The Green Mile than, say, The Stand.
What follows are minor spoilers although none of them factor largely on the plot.
What I found best about this book however is the personal. As a writer I have real problems including the personal in my prose and whenever I see someone doing with ease, I tend to take note. And there’s a lot of the personal in this story. King grew up in a lot of the places and tiles mentioned in this book and he REALLY knows the neighbourhood and even the people. The Warumbo Mill that features heavily in the first part was his first job. The paper in Lisbon Falls was another. He used to be one of the reporters writing the stories our time-traveling hero uses to research events.
Besides what King remembers from his childhood, this novel has extensive research into the background but you wouldn’t notice unless you’re looking for it. It’s just part of the scenery like the restroom at a gas station marked “Coloreds” that consists of a board precariously placed among a bunch of Poison Ivy bushes. That kind of thing must have existed and yet somehow it always seems to slip from the memory of the people pining for the good old days when men were men and everyone else tried to work around that. And despite the fact that the main character is a white man in a time when being a white man was especially good he still manages to notice how unfair it was for everyone else.
And that’s kind of awesome.