Review of “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Jake Epping is a 35-year-old teacher with no commitments when a dying friend asks him to take over his life’s mission for him. His friend, Al, found a portal through which he could travel back and forth to the past – always to September 9, 1958. He wants Jake to go back and prevent Kennedy’s assassination, and Jake agrees. Al warns Jake that the past resists change, and that barriers will be repeatedly placed in his path. But even Al can’t anticipate the biggest complication of all: Jake falls in love.

Discussion: I fought reading this book, and wasn’t really sucked in until halfway through, which in the case of the prolix Stephen King, means around page 400! For the last 400 and some pages though, I couldn’t put it down.

Part of the problem for me with this book has to do with my personal history; I spent a lot of time already reading everything there was to read on Kennedy and the assassination, including the 1120-page A Thousand Days by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and the almost-800-page The Death of A President by William Manchester. So for me, all the information about Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina Oswald was not as interesting as it might have been had I known nothing about it.

And yet, as focused as the book was on the Kennedy assassination, it seems to me that King’s real passion emerges when he writes about the small everyday activities that never make the history books: the pleasure of an ice cold root beer on a hot day; the rewards of helping a kid discover what is best about himself; the kindness of friends; the sweet awkwardness of a first date; the deep satisfaction of having someone to love and with whom to share your joy and pain; and the exhilaration of dancing in spite of everything. All these things, he seems to be saying, can help compensate for the more appalling and unfair aspects of “a universe of horror and loss.” But they can’t entirely erase tragedy…. Those who are lucky enough to have “moments of glad grace” should cherish those memories; for they can be ephemeral, no matter how many chances you get to relive time.

Evaluation: I don’t feel right in saying I would have wanted this book edited downward in size, because verbose expositions are part of what makes this author distinctive. With King, you can also expect a lot of side stories that aren’t essential to the main plot. And get ready to spend a lot of time with the characters – enough to miss them dearly when you are done reading. More importantly, be prepared to be very, very sad indeed at the haunting, bittersweet ending.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2011

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24 Responses to Review of “11/22/63” by Stephen King

  1. What a terrific review Jill. I loved this one as well. The length of the book was at first a bit overwhelming, but once I got into the story, I was hooked.

  2. Jenny says:

    I haven’t read about Kennedy at all so I’m assuming that part will fascinate me. I actually started listening to this on audio but didn’t get very far. I need to get back to it… I want to see what everyone loves about it!! (I do like it so far)

  3. JoV says:

    It’s nice to read something from King (you will be aghast that I haven’t!) and this one is historical… I’ll look it up. Thanks for introducing it. 🙂

  4. zibilee says:

    Sandy also sold me on this one, and I got it and downloaded it from the library. I haven’t started with it yet because it’s just such a hulking book, but I should be able to clear some space for it in the upcoming month. Great review today. I think you did a great job of accurately reflecting your ambivalence about sticking with it, and your eventual enjoyment of it.

  5. Aarti says:

    Oh, lovely review. I have never read Stephen King, either. I think, like many, his verbosity frightens me away 🙂 But this book’s premise sounds more interesting to me than many others. And the events described in the book, both big and small, clearly had a very profound effect on you, which may have heightened the book’s impact.

  6. Nymeth says:

    I like your generous take on his verbose expositions 😛 I can’t say much about this book publicly since I was judging it for the Indie Lit Awards, so I’ll just say I agree with you about the characters and the premise.

  7. I want to read this one, but I still need a break from King since reading It. It took me a few hundred pages to get hooked on It, but it was so worth reading. Sounds like this was a similar experience.

  8. Serena says:

    I have this on the shelf and I am looking forward to this one, since it was one of my Christmas purchases for myself. I will definitely be reading this one later this year.

  9. I want to read this one but I know it will be a commitment. I think I’ll wait until summer when I can really spend some time getting to know the characters. Thanks for such insightful review. I may have skipped this because it seems daunting.

  10. JoAnn says:

    I’m glad you were rewarded for your persistence! Sandy convinced me to download a sample to my Nook and I like what I’ve read so far.

  11. Sandy says:

    OK I just got goosebumps from the way you talked about King and his themes in this novel. EXACTLY. That is exactly right, as is often the way in his books, even the ones that are classified as horror. I’m just so pleased that you gave it 4.5 stars…high praise for you. I have no doubt this will be one of my favorites of the year.

  12. BermudaOnion says:

    I listened to this on audio and loved every second of it. I haven’t read a lot about Oswald so it was all new to me.

  13. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    Hmmm….an almost perfect score! I just may have to read this one sometime. It would get me back into King’s works. I haven’t read a book by him in ages!

  14. Vasilly says:

    I’m reading this right now so I didn’t really read your review yet. I plan on having a mini read-a-thon for it tonight so I can finish it in time for the Chunky Book Club Discussion tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to come back and read your post.

  15. Jenners says:

    Well done!! I am curious if you felt that King’s research into Oswald and the assassination was well done and thorough? I thought it was a bold step for him to take, and I’m assuming he crossed all his t’s and dotted his i’s. I agree that Jake’s personal story is what grounds the book and elevates it to something special. I’m waiting for the day when King writes “just a plain old book’ that doesn’t have any supernatural or horror or fantasy elements to it. But then, it wouldn’t be King would it?

  16. Ti says:

    You liked it more than me.

    I just didn’t think it was even ABOUT the assassination attempt. Yeah, it’s mentioned and that’s why he’s there and all but the romance takes over in a big way.

  17. Alyce says:

    This is the only Stephen King book that I have read and I absolutely loved it, but then I am a sucker for anything time-travel related. I really wish that he had more books that weren’t horror fiction.

  18. Margot says:

    I’m surprised at the high score you gave this one. I take your recommendations seriously and if you really liked this one, then it must be worth reading. The size is what gives me pause. Maybe one of these days.

  19. wendy says:

    Great review, Jill! So glad you are participating in the discussion on the Chunkster blog – I plan on spending some time there tomorrow 🙂

  20. Julie P. says:

    Can’t decide if I should read this one or listen to it. Everyone seems to really like it!

  21. stacybuckeye says:

    A sad endingI I guess I’ve missed that part from other reviews. I’m interested in the Kennedy’s but don’t know as much as I could for sure. Everyone seems to love this one so I’ll have to give it a try.

  22. Cathy says:

    Not all of King’s books are successful with me, and I’ve long ago reached the point where I can take or leave them depending on the subject matter. I’ve had the “expanded version” of this on my Nook for a few months now, and although I love how King can get into my head with his style of writing, I have memories of that date, and I think that’s why I’m putting off reading it, too.

  23. Yes!! It is about the small everyday activities that make King the storytelling master that he is! I loved, loved LOVED this book and am so glad you did, too!

    Feel free to include it in the March links on The Stephen King Project site! 🙂 Would love to have you on there (monthly prizes are sorta fun).

    I fell in love with this book and bawled at the end.

  24. boardinginmyforties says:

    Thanks for being part of the project! I’ve heard consistently good reviews of this one and yours is no expection. I have to get around to reading this one this year!

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