11/22/63 by Stephen King
Digital Audiobook narrated by Craig Wasson
Published by Scribner on November 8, 2011
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Time Travel
Length: 849 pages or 30 hours, 40 minutes
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Book Depository • IndieBound
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
I was first introduced to 11/22/63 in its mini-series format a few years ago. I remember being intrigued, and not at all realizing it was a book. I liked the show – watched it over the course of about a week – and only vaguely recalled seeing it was written by Stephen King. I figured it was probably a short story. Foolish me.
11/22/63 is a whopper of a book. It comes in at about 31 hours of listening time. The book really needs that time to become established. King has to get you attached to Jake Epping / George Amberson. You have to learn to care about the past, illustrate the way the world was, and learn a bit about the theories around JFK’s assassination. There’s a lot going on and it needs time to unfold naturally. Most of all, it needs time to introduce the reader to the consequences of meddlesome time travel.
King does fantasy and sci-fi so well. I know he’s known for his horror, but his world-building is really fantastic. He’s also amazing at suspense, which is why all his books are so successful. Stephen King always leaves the reader thirsty for more. It’s how he gets away with having such long, unpolished books. They seem to have infinite page counts, but it’s so easy together sucked in. 11/22/63 is no exception. To some point, I knew what was going to happen at the end, but like every good book, it differed from its screen adaptation and I was absolutely engrossed. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen… because the past fights back.
Honestly, I wish more time travel had consequences as dire as 11/22/63. A lot of sci-fi, particularly in the time travel sub-genre, talks about the butterfly effect. Some even talk about the different strings or branches each consequence creates. But I’ve never seen it done quite so well as King. When you read time travel like this, you worry about every conversation, especially when you start putting together all the different causes and effects. It’s just brilliant. The suspense aspects keep this book alive, in a format that feels very different from his other novels, but is nonetheless well-researched and engaging.
Even though I see Jake Epping in my head as James Franco, I felt his character was well rounded enough to be interesting, but no more emotional and in-depth than any of King’s other creations. There’s a distance to Jake that makes him less relatable, but no less interesting. Sadie was my favorite, with a but of a twisted history. Oh yes, and for King fans you know there’s going to be an easter egg somewhere from his collected multiverse, and sure enough, there are a few characters near the beginning you may recognize in Derry, Maine.
All in all, 11/22/63 intrigued me for its time travel, alternate universe, and historic aspects, but I stayed for the suspense. I had to know how the book played out, if he completed his task, and what happened afterward. Your heart breaks for the love and loss in the story, but you drive forward because you have to know. For myself, I think it’s my favorite read of his after the Dark Tower series. I don’t care for horror, but this man knows suspense.
If you could go back in time and change the past, would you? I don’t think I would – time travel stories like this and Just One Damned Thing After Another have proved to me that the past doesn’t want to be changed. Still, it’s pretty cool! Tell me if you’d go back and what you’d change in the comments!