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11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King

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October 30, 2011

Race Across Time to Stop Assassin and Fall in Love

The New York Times Book Review



By Stephen King

Illustrated. 849 pages. Scribner. $35.

Stephen King’s latest magnum opus, “11/22/63,” finds a way to revisit and even revise the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The book’s front cover depicts a newspaper account of Kennedy’s death in Dallas on that date. Its rear cover presents the opposite outcome, with the president and first lady looking happy and unscathed.

On the 849 pages between those covers, Mr. King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery. He makes alternative history work — but how? It’s at least as interesting to examine Mr. King’s narrative tactics as to discover his opinions about conspiracy theories. By the way, he thinks it a near-certainty that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

Mr. King predicates “11/22/63” on the idea of time travel. So he needs to concoct a reason why Jake Epping, a nice Maine schoolteacher who is 35 years old in 2011, would want to live through events that occurred long before he was born. Mr. King also needs a way of moving Jake from Maine to Texas and putting him close to the Oswald family. And he needs to make these developments gradual, plausible and even sequential. Even in a book that leapfrogs back and forth across four decades, chronology can’t be suspenseful if it doesn’t make sense.

Mr. King’s books have a far stronger real-world component than they used to, even when he deals with premises rooted in science fiction. And he has lately written with more heart and soul, leaving the phantasmagorical grisliness behind. Perhaps it’s the gravity of the Kennedy assassination that makes this new book so well grounded, but in any case “11/22/63” does not lay on the terror tricks. Mr. King’s description of America in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, fearing imminent nuclear annihilation, is at least as scary as anything he ever made up.

Jake is set in motion by an essay that was written by one of his students, a man named Harry Dunning who has studied for his GED. Harry, who is old enough to be Jake’s father, had an assignment to write about a day that changed his life. He wrote about a terrible, violent family dispute that killed his mother and siblings when Harry was a boy in 1958.

Now comes the book’s biggest stretch: It just so happens that Al Templeton, who runs the local diner in Lisbon Falls, Me., has a portal to the past in the diner’s storeroom. Al shows Jake the portal, gives Jake a few supplies (like a plastic pocket protector) and sends him into 1958. Jake gets himself to Derry, Me., the site of many previous ghastly episodes in the King universe. (Derry was home to “It.”) Derry is also where Frank Dunning attacked his family with a sledgehammer, and Jake would like to do something about that.

This is a sidelong way of introducing Jake’s special abilities. At first it seems like an overlong prelude to the assassination story. But it turns out that people and places in Derry will have odd repercussions later. Mr. King writes of harmonics, echoes and “the butterfly effect,” two ways of saying that tampering with the past is a dangerous business. He gives those ideas a trial run in Derry and treats Derry as a sinister premonition of what Dallas will be like in 1963.

Yet Jake, who uses the alias George Amberson for time travel, finds himself deeply drawn to this lost world. Food tastes better. Music is more fun. There’s a lot to like, even if the women of the era are so easily abused by their husbands. The Dunning family dynamics wind up prefiguring what goes on between Lee and Marina Oswald, making it that much easier for Mr. King to fold the Oswalds into the novel later on. By the time they appear — and Mr. King has fine tricks for observing them without too much narrative fakery — they are already a little bit familiar and not at all hard to accept.

Jake commits himself to a long stretch in the past as he moves to Texas and awaits the assassination plot. While he is there, in a little town called Jodie, he falls enchantingly in love with the local librarian, Sadie, in ways that make this an unusually romantic novel for its author. Just to keep things interesting, Mr. King makes Sadie smart enough to sense that there’s something odd about her new flame. And he makes Jake so mired in secrets that he does not dare explain himself, not even to the woman he adores.

“11/22/63” finds unexpected humor in the ways Jake’s knowledge of the future betray him. He gets in terrible trouble with Sadie for singing a Rolling Stones song, for example. And he supports himself in part by making sports bets that he is guaranteed to win. But all of these small touches become suspenseful once the Oswalds arrive, Lee prepares to take a shot at Gen. Edwin Walker in April 1963, and Jake must jump over terrible, unexpected hurdles in order to keep up with him.

This novel is more personal than political. But Mr. King has done considerable research into Oswald-related figures like the petroleum geologist George de Mohrenschildt, a man well known to conspiracy theorists. And he constructs an alternate reality in which the Kennedy presidency is not interrupted. It is not what his readers are liable to expect.

One of Jake’s main motives for intervening in history is to save lives by changing the chain of events that led to the Vietnam war. But Mr. King, who consulted with Richard and Doris Kearns Goodwin about possible plotlines, turns that aspect of the book into one of its most frightening.

The pages of “11/22/63” fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick.

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It's at least as interesting to examine Mr. King's narrative tactics as to discover his opinions about conspiracy theories. By the way, he thinks it a near-certainty that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

I want to read the book. I was disappointed, though, when I found out King believes LHO did it alone. How can any intelligent person believe this? Is it political for him to say that? Is he afraid he'll be called a conspiracy theorist? With all the plots that have gone on in his books, saying yes about the Kennedy Conspiracy might make him look foolish. Or his publisher wouldn't like it.

Kathy C

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Guest Robert Morrow

"TreeFrog" Ed Sherry opines:

Imagine being paid a medium 7 figure advance for a new book, because it’s results will be “unknown”. In the JFK Community, we are eagerly awaiting these results, since much hoopla and publicity will be provided to Lee Harvey Oswald, and a whole new generation will be searching the internet for TRUTH, after reading this new book.

Luckily, Stephen King is known as a FICTION writer, so that his new book will be considered as such. Those of us in the JFK Research Community will have to reemphasize that we are the TRUTH SEEKERS, and have huge amounts of material that needs to be explored. There should be a new resurgence looking for older Oswald books like “Oswald and the CIA”, “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald”, “Harvey and Lee” “The People V. Lee Harvey Oswald” and newer books like “Me and Lee”.

In this writer’s opinion, it will not create a huge negative effect, but will serve to open the subject of LHO to millions of new people that can study the controversy in more detail.

We see this activity as the FIRST shot across the bow in the buildup to 2013, the 50th Anniversary of the JFK Assassination. One thing is for certain, it will not be the last. In fact, the Stephen King book may bring thousands more to Dallas for the 50th, which should make the 3000 people who assembled at the 40th, look like a small tailgate party.



Edited by Robert Morrow
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I cant wait to buy this book and read it

And just like all the King books that I own and read, I will read it as fiction

If you buy the eBook version, you will not only "read" the book but also "view" a 13-minute film.

However, as Amazon notes, "Audio/Video content only available for iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices."

From Amazon:

"This Enhanced eBook Edition contains a 13-minute film, written and narrated by Stephen King and enhanced with historic footage from CBS News, that will take you back—as King’s novel does—to Kennedy era America."

No DVD accompanies the hardback edition .... I presume.

Anyone going to be "reviewing" the book after "readviewing" it?

hehe ....

Edited by Peter Fokes
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