3 1/2 STARS
11/22/63 by Stephen King is the second King book that I’ve “read” (hello handy dandy audiobook). Stephen King’s books are perfect for audiobook—they read like a script thanks to the abundance of dialogue and action. Plus, his books are super lengthy (at least the ones on my reading list are) and as someone who always carries around a book in her purse, I particularly hate toting heavy (i.e. lengthy) books.
Unfortunately, I wish I had read this book instead of listened to it. Despite the length (and overall time commitment) the narrator’s voice got on my nerves and his performance was too over the top for me. To make matters worse, I couldn’t connect with any of his female voices. They sounded too stereotypically…feminine. So even though the female characters were likely well-written, his voice prevented me from rooting for any of them—especially Sadie, arguably the most important one.
Here is the setup of the book: Al Templeton, the owner of a diner and secret time traveler, is friends with Jake Epping, a high school English teacher. In Al’s pantry hides a rabbit hole to the 1950s. Stricken with cancer, Al burdens his friend Jake with a secret time traveler’s mission: Stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and change the world.
I was immediately hooked, as I am an absolute sucker for anything time travel related. When people argue whether Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is the greatest trilogy of all time, I insist that it’s actually Back to the Future. (I mean, duh.)
As always, Stephen King tells the story well and continues to keep things interesting. But seeing as how it was more than 800 pages long, there were definitely parts in the story that could have been cut—many in fact. It takes well over two-thirds of the book to really begin to dig into the Kennedy assassination, and that was the most interesting part of the story. The majority of the book is about Jake’s time spent in a small Texas town where he takes on the pseudonym George Amberson, enjoys the quaintness of small town life, becomes an adored English teacher and falls in love with the tall, klutzy and southern librarian (Sadie). This was a cute story in and of itself, but not what I signed up for when taking on this mammoth of a story.
Eventually the story circles back to the main subject of Harvey Oswald and JFK, and the plot gets exciting once again. Unfortunately, King’s handling of the cause-and-effect related to time travel, or rather “the butterfly effect,” was—again—not what I was hoping for. Without meaning to spoil anything, let’s just say King introduced paranormal elements that conflicted with the usual paradigm of time travel. It was still intriguing, just not what I was hoping for.
All in all, a fun read—as long as you have the time to spare.
Some spoilers ahead
• I think my favorite part about this book was the basic history lesson. I guess I didn’t really know a whole lot about JFK. (It’s a wonder I graduated high school, really.) So taking an in-depth look in such a way was a whole lot of fun. I mean, maybe Kennedy wouldn’t have prevented the war in Vietnam—maybe that was inevitable—but it sure is interesting to contemplate the possibilities.
• I also loved the attention to detail that King spent when setting up the rules for time travel. The rabbit hole always starts at the exact time and place. You can bring objects back with you to the present from the past, and then when you visit the past again, the object still exists. Also, every time you visit the past it creates alternate timelines.
• The purpose of the “Yellow Card Man” was a little confusing. I’m still not sure if I fully understood his purpose and where exactly he came from. Who would take up that job? Does it have health benefits? Dental?
• I would again like to stress that I really didn’t like the way this book handled “the butterfly effect.” Instead of taking an honest look at what might have happened if Oswald had never assassinated Kennedy, we glimpse a dystopian future where the world has suffered from nuclear warfare—the more extreme a change to the past is (from talking to a stranger to saving someone’s life), the more unstable our timeline becomes. And while this is interesting, I would have much rather seen King’s ideas for what a world with a living Kennedy would have actually look like—sans paranormal elements. But I guess that’s not the story King wanted to tell.
• Even though I didn’t love Sadie as much as I think I would have if I didn’t have to experience her through the audiobook narrator’s awful voice for her, I definitely teared up at that ending. That was beautiful. Nice job, King. Nice job.
• Finally, have you heard that Hulu is adapting this book, and that they’ve cast James Franco as Jake Epping? Ugh. I love James Franco, but he is not Jake. I really don’t like this.
But I’ll probably still watch it.
*Bows head in shame.