By Stephen King
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781451627282, November 2011, 864pp.)
The Short of It:
A total departure from what King is typically known for, and not at all what I expected.
The Rest of It:
Jake Epping, thirty-five and writing his first novel, teaches GED courses at the local high school so he can make a few extra bucks. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives. One of his students writes about the murder of his family, at the hands of his own father. Jake is blown away by his essay and can’t get those horrible images out of his mind. Days later, Al, a long-time friend, asks Jake to visit him at the diner he owns. What Jake sees before him, is a very ill man. A dying man. Quite different from when he saw him just a few days before. Al explains that he is, in fact, dying from lung cancer and needs to ask a favor or Jake. In his storeroom, Al shows him a portal to the past and asks Jake to complete the task that he is now unable to carry out; preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The premise of this novel is so different from anything King has done before, that when I first heard about it, I immediately added it to my “want” list. Traveling back in time to change history has been done a million times before, but for some reason, I was looking forward to King’s attempt at it. Since the title of the book refers to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I naturally assumed that the bulk of the story would center around it. However, I was wrong on that count.
Although Jake’s entire reason for entering the portal is to prevent the assassination, the story quickly takes a turn and becomes something else entirely. Much of it, almost half of the book deals with trying to prevent his student’s family from being murdered. The rest of it is about the woman he meets while living in past and then there is the assassination attempt. Had this book been advertised differently, I think I would have enjoyed it more, but I was expecting to read more about the assassination attempt and a lot less about Jake’s romantic interest.
Was the story readable? Yes, but it lacked the character development that King’s books are known for. I found myself skimming, especially through the romantic bits because I just didn’t care for any of the characters and that pains me because I am a huge King fan. All in all, I can’t recommend this one. It lacked depth, focus and the character development that I’ve come to expect from King and left me very disappointed.
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46 thoughts on “Review: 11/22/63”
This is a bummer because I just ordered this book! Ah well, at least I’m better prepared for its actual focus. I was looking forward to more about the assassination attempt!
You were probably looking forward to the historical aspect, right? Very little about the assassination and Oswald, but the return to simpler times was kind of charming.
How disappointing! It had an interesting premise. Though, it has to be done really well for me to get into a book about time travel!
The time travel piece wasn’t done all that well. It was overly simplistic and there were too many “loopholes” to make me happy.
Haven’t read King since college, but this one kind of intrigued me. Sorry it didn’t live up to what you’ve come to expect from this author… very disappointing when that happens. 😦
I knew this one would be different since King hasn’t really dealt with time travel before, but it just wasn’t at all what I wanted from him. I really don’t understand the rave reviews.
That’s disappointing. I kindled that one and have just started it. Now I’m not looking forward to it anymore. UGH! I thought it was going to be all about the assassination, too. Hmmm. Oh well. I guess I’ll see for myself how much or how little I like it. Thanks for the honest review!
I’m so sorry to have ruined the experience for you! However, you might enjoy it more knowing that it’s really not about the assassination. It’s weird, because it’s a constant thread, but it’s just backstory. The writing is still pretty good.
That totally blows! Just by looking at the cover that is what the reader is led to believe. Marketing ploy…and a shameful one to boot! Thanks for your awesome review and for reading this one so I don’t have to. Crossing it off the list.
Yes! That dreaded marketing ploy is what bothered me the most!
Wow…I really do not like it when a book sort of disappoints.
It has been ages since I have even thought about reading a Stephen King book…
I think I like reading your review of it more than the actual book.
There are some King books that I know you will love, but not this one 😦
I just finished It and was blown away by how well developed the characters were, given that he juggled so many main characters. Hearing that the characters in this book aren’t very well developed is disappointing. Ah well.
Not many characters in this one which also surprised me. He didn’t have too many in Duma Key either, which I absolutely loved so I guess it’s what he didn’t do with them that bothered me the most. That, and the fact that the whole assassination is just backstory.
Ack! I’m starting it today!
Sandy told me that you are reading it together. Well, reading it together will be fun. I wish I had someone to talk to while I was reading it. Especially when I hit the halfway mark and realized that the book was quite different from what I expected.
Ugh! This is the next book my book club will read. We’re dividing it up over two months since it’s so long. I’m wondering if there will be anything for us to discuss.
As far as discussion goes…there is plenty to discuss. The whole “if you could change the past, would you?” discussion, you could also discuss King’s choice to go the direction in which he did. What his motivation was, etc.
Jill and I are reading this together, and I’m so sad to hear you say this. So far I am enthralled with it, even geeked out because OMG the characters from IT are in there! I love it when he does that. And I love time travel, in any form. We’ll see how I feel when I get through all 30 discs but I am having a good time so far.
Can’t wait to hear what you guys think of it.
I am also planning on listening to this one at some point, but I think it will be interesting because I have not been a longtime King fan, and I wonder what I will think of it. I am surprised to hear that the character development wasn’t so great, because usually King is on top of that in his other books. This was a great and very honest review, and I enjoyed reading your perspective. I will have to let you know what I think of this one when I am done.
If you haven’t been a fan of his before, you’ll probably like this one. I just felt that the assassination story line was secondary to the rest of it.
I was a classic King fan…and he lost me by the time IT was published…that and Tommyknockers. I’ve seen several reviews of this one and wondered if it was worth giving King another try…I still don’t know. ;P
If you read it, get it from the library. I wish I had.
I’m hearing a lot of mixed reviews on this one. I picked it up so I’ll read it at some point. I hope I’ll be one of the people who loves it especially since it’s such a chunkster.
I hope you do love it. You will probably like it more, knowing that it is not all about the assassination. I just felt misled by the marketing. Expecting one thing and then getting another.
Thanks for the review Ti! I just started this and unfortunately I’m already feeling how you did. Hopefully his next novel will be more “King-esque”! 🙂
Ack!!! I just bought this for my Kindle because of another review. But I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself. I, too, am interested in seeing King’s take on time travel. I shall keep in mind that it is not really about the Kennedy assassination.
I’ve put this on hold at the library and am going to give Stephen King a second try (my first was Carrie years ago and it freaked me out). I love time travel, so I’m hoping that aspect of the story will be appealing.
This one will not freak you out. It’s not that kind of book. I could name a few far better than this one though so don’t give up on him if this doesn’t work either.
OH NO! I loved it, and was sure all my blogging buddies would as well. It will make my Top 10 list for 2011.
Sorry, you were disappointed.
I read your review when I was about halfway through and thought it might get better for me, but it didn’t. I just feel that he strayed too far from the main topic. If I were a teacher I’d say he went off task. LOL.
I’ve heard such mixed things about this one. A friend brought it to me last week to read, but I’m just not sure. I’ve never actually read a King novel before, so I may try to get to it anyway.
There have been several favorable reviews of it, so maybe I am being highly critical, but I’ve been reading King since high school and it just didn’t scream “King” to me but that might not be a bad thing for those who have been avoiding his work before now.
Thanks so much for this very honest review.
I’ve been thinking about buying this one, but now I think I’ll be content to wait until my turn at the library comes up. I’m also a huge King fan, but I was really intrigued by the assassination premise of the novel too.
I thought this review might help some of the posters to better understand the novel, and thus perhaps evaluate it from a broader and deeper perspective.
REVIEW OF 11/22/63
By Jeff Greenfield, Published: October 31
First, the (possibly) bad news: If you’re expecting Stephen King to provide an alternative history of what America would have been like had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated in Dallas, put those expectations aside.
Not until 800 pages have gone by in “11/22/63” does King offer up an account of the world as it might have been, and even then it has a cursory, I’m-doing-this-because-I have-to feel to it. This does not belong on the What If? shelf that has given us the Nazis-win works of Robert Harris (“Fatherland”) and Philip K. Dick (“The Man in the High Castle”), or the Charles Lindbergh presidency of Philip Roth (“The Plot Against America”).
Now, the (mostly) good news. That is not what King is aiming at.
He is, instead, offering a tale richly layered with the pleasures we’ve come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story.
The suspension of disbelief required here happens almost before the book begins. In this case, it begins in Lisbon Falls, Maine (of course), in a diner whose proprietor, Al Templeton, summons Jake Epping for an urgent meeting. Somehow, overnight, Al has aged years and contracted a fatal illness. But it hasn’t really happened overnight; in fact, he has been gone more than four years and has traveled through a time portal that connects the present to Sept. 9, 1958.
Al, who began with the modest goal of buying hamburger meat at 50-year-old prices, had taken on a very different task before illness sent him back home to the present: trying to prevent the murder of John F. Kennedy.
“If you ever wanted to change the world,” Al tells Jake, “this is your chance. Save Kennedy, save his brother. Save Martin Luther King. Stop the race riots. Stop Vietnam, maybe. . . . You could save millions of lives.”
In Epping, an English teacher, Al has found the right guy to finish the mission he’s too sick to complete. Divorced and childless, Epping has his own, less-cosmic reason to undo the past: preventing a horrific act of violence that still darkens the life of a friend in town.
So back he goes to a world where everyone smokes, where the food is tastier, the people friendlier, where the gunshots that changed America are more than five years away.
But Jake quickly discovers disturbing signs that the past is asserting itself against the threat of change. He meets people with the same names and hears the same words spoken in different places, in different “pasts.” He has with him a CliffsNotes version of the history he is about to live (in part so he can support himself by placing wagers on sporting events — a practice that exacts a terrible price). He settles down as a teacher in a small Texas town, falls in love, and all the while tracks the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald. (Al has made it clear that Jake must be positive that Oswald is acting on his own, and not as part of some larger conspiracy.)
King has done a prodigious amount of research here, which is both a strength and a weakness of the book. The depiction of Oswald and his family — his beautiful Russian wife, his overbearing mother — rings true, and Oswald’s motivation becomes clear: He’s an angry, twisted man determined to be “great.” But the piling on of detail after detail slows the pace and the pull of the story. In contrast to very long books like “The Stand” and “Under the Dome,” this work could have benefited from some serious paring.
Very much in evidence, however, are the memorable characters who populate so much of King’s work — people who touch us viscerally and for whom we root. (In fact, for me, watching Jake and the school librarian he falls in love with nurture their students was more absorbing than watching Jake keep tabs on Oswald.) And there is that powerful sense of place: in the stores, songs, clothes and cars, in the details that make this fantasy seem plausible.
When at last Jake races through the streets of Dallas on Nov. 22, King’s storytelling skills kick into overdrive. There are echoes of a hundred chase movies, but in this case the nemesis is the past itself, hurling obstacle after obstacle in the path of a man trying to avert the killing he knows is minutes away.
And while the unintended consequences of Jake’s journey seem to me too casually rendered — summed up by the old ad line that “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” — the ending is redeemed by a poignant reunion of sorts with the love of his life . . . make that, one of his lives.
We are, in sum, reminded again that in Stephen King, we have proof that (as JFK himself once put it) “life is unfair.” He is not only as famous and wealthy a writer as any of his time; his work suggests that if a time traveler found a portal to the 22nd century and looked for the authors of today still being read tomorrow, Stephen King would be one of them.
Greenfield has been a correspondent and political analyst for ABC, CNN and CBS and now serves as co-host of PBS’s “Need to Know.” The paperback edition of his latest book, “Then Everything Changed,” will be out in February.
I’m halfway through this book. The reviewer is completely out to lunch. 11/22/63 is an incredibly enjoyable read. I’m loving every page and I can’t wait to turn to the next one.
I have over 40 of King’s novels, so i would say i am a seasoned King fan, and personally i am in love with this book. i really enjoyed it and it saddens me to hear you try to convince people away from it
Oh, that’s too bad. I got it for Xmas and was really anticipating it. I want to start it soon now and see how I feel about it. Hope your next read is more your cup of tea 🙂
This book combined my two favorite genres: historical fiction and time travel . I really enjoyed being swept up into a bygone era. I thought the romance served to enhance the assassination story. Well written and riveting!
I have never been a SK reader this book interested me due to the title. I did enjoy the book and his take on Time Travel as we can all have different ideas how it could happen. I and could not put it down however I was disappointed on the amount that dealt with the assignation of JFK I was hoping for more.
LOVED this book! A+++++!
skimming?! wow! I didn’t skim one of the 1000 ish pages! it has renewed my love for Stephen King. while I was reading it I was even dreaming about being in the 1950s and 60s myself 🙂