I am not much of a fan of Stephen King, and I have read only two of his novels. These two were “The Shining” and “Firestarter.” I read “The Shining” when it was published back in 1977. I had seen the Stanley Hotel up in
, and I enjoyed the read. I
certainly have never forgotten Kubrick’s movie, nor Jack Nicholson’s performance.
I really don’t remember much about “Firestarter,” since I read it over 30 years
ago and did not see the movie. Estes Park
I have tended, over the years, to agree with John Dunning’s comments regarding Stephen King. In his classic bibliomystery, “Booked to Die,” Cliff Janeway is scouting along
Denver’s Book Row on East
Colfax. An old dealer sells Janeway a first of “The Shining” for $4.00. Janeway
tells him he’s not charging enough for the book. The dealer replies: “I don’t
believe in Steffan King.” Many years and many King books have come and gone,
and I’ve not been tempted to read another. But, a couple of weeks ago I picked
up a copy of King’s “11/22/63.” I remembered that I’d seen good reviews when
Scribner published it in November 2011, 48 years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The book is huge – 849 pages, weighing in at almost 4 pounds. I certainly didn’t read through it quickly. I figure that I averaged 20 to 30 pages at a sitting, and so picked it up and set it down many times, getting some real exercise.
The tales told here by King revolve around a fantasy type of time travel (i.e., a Jack Finney way of easing back into the past) – quite different than science fiction tales where there is a “machine” or some deterministic control over time travel. As I was reading early sections of the book I was somewhat reminded of time travel tales from the 1950s. Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder” (a dinosaur hunting expedition changes politics back in the future), or Wilson Tucker’s “The Lincoln Hunters” (again with politics at play in time). In fact, after I’d been thinking of the connections, King’s main character refers to “The Lincoln Hunters,” so King may have been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club back in the 1950’s.
I can’t summarize King’s book here, since it is so long and very convoluted. The primary plot revolves around Jake Epping (aka George Amberson), who returns to 1963 to prevent the assassination of JFK. A dying friend, who runs a café, has discovered a tangle in the strings of time that allows him to step back into the past, always into 1958. No matter how long the time traveler remains in the past, when he returns to the present only two minutes have gone by. This is the first quirky aspect of time travel ala Stephen King. Another is that the traveler has physically aged whatever length of time he/she spent in the past. Jake is urged by his friend to step through the time tangle and experience 1958. He does this a number of times, until the dying café owner convinces him that he should remain in the past for 5 years and prevent JFK’s assassination. So, this is the basic thread of the book – Jake Epping, school teacher from 2011, steps back in time to 1958 and stays until 1963, when he will try to prevent the assassination.
Unfortunately, King can’t head straight down the main plotline. He adds a large number of confusing, and at times quite slow, subplots. There’s one about a young woman disabled in a hunting accident, that’s replayed several times. There’s a much longer tale about a dreary, factory town in
where a man goes off the deep-end and murders his entire family. Then there’s a
subplot about the mob, bookies, and betting on sporting events whose outcomes
Jake already knows (this is how he funds his long stay in the past). There’s a
love story, after George meets Sadie, a 1958 high school teacher in a
fictional, Texas town south of Dallas. George has gotten
a job as a substitute teacher to help both his finances and to pass five years
while he waits for the fatal date to arrive. This story is very long and
involved and introduces yet another
violent and crazy character. The love story has its own subplots. It appears
that King has gathered together a number of short stories and novellas, not
previously published, and hammered them into the time travel plot of this book.
No wonder it’s so massive.
There is an extended account of George shadowing Lee Harvey Oswald, so that he can learn whether or not Oswald is acting on his or if there is a conspiracy. King has to provide his answer to this question that will never go away. However, getting to an answer takes up several hundreds of pages that are not very interesting, and this part of the tale drags along. The final hundred or so pages are the best part of this novel, as events, characters, the Kennedy motorcade, and time converge on
. It’s an
interesting climax, but the effort required of the reader to get here is
And then there’s the final and fatal quirk of King’s version of time travel. The time string of 1958 “resets” to exactly how it was the previous time the traveler had stepped into 1958. This is a real “What the hell?” aspect of the novel. It allows Jake to go back again and again to redo things in the past, if he doesn’t like how 2011 turned out due to his fiddling in his previous trip. This aspect of King’s story deflates the tensions and suspense associated with more classic, time travel, science fiction stories. Recommended only to folks who have a lot of time on their hands.