Monday, January 2, 2012

Even people capable of living in the past don't really know what the future holds

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Stephen King's 11/22/63 from Audra at the Unabridged Chick and Klout, which was amazing. Obviously, I'd heard a lot about the book. It keeps showing up on 2011 wrap up lists for top books, or at least most anticipated. So winning a copy was pretty sweet.

The story isn't something I would normally think of as a King book. It's not a horror story. It has the supernatural elements that King is comfortable with, in this case time travel, and it's maybe a thriller but certainly not horror. Our main character, Jake Epping finds a way to travel back in time. Or rather Al, a friend of his that runs the local diner, finds a way. There's a passage in the pantry that brings you out a town in Maine (of course) on Tuesday, September 9, 1958. You can spend as much time as you'd like in the Land of Ago but only 2 minutes will have passed in the present. And each trip back in time is a reset.

Al has a proposition for Jake: go back in time and prevent the JFK assassination before the diner is torn down at the path to the past is lost. If things go wrong, if the future is worse off, you can just go back through the pantry and do a reset. There's no risk. Now of course, the assassination doesn't happen until November 22nd, 1963 so Jake will have some time to kill. He has to make sure Oswald acted alone, that he wasn't just a patsy and that there isn't another shooter on the grassy knoll. And of course the past is obdurate; it doesn't want to be changed.

The story is a thriller in the will he/won't he and if he does, what's that mean for the future way. And there are moments where you're on the edge of your seat, but that's not the majority. A large chunk of the book is about Jake waiting to make his move. He has to learn as much as he can about Oswald to make sure he did act alone but he also just has a lot of time. So he takes on a teaching job, he makes friends, he starts to think maybe the present (or at this point Land of Ahead) is nice and all but maybe he should stay in the Land of Ago. It may seem like these are tangents off the main plot, but it's difficult to make that argument when they make up such a large portion of the book. You almost think it's the Oswald stuff that's interrupting the real story. The scenes of Jake in Jodie, Texas were some of my favorites.

I said this isn't a horror story, but this is absolutely a King story. It feels like his writing and there are disgusting, graphic, grotesque scenes. It may not be horror but there are a few moments of intense violence. I don't want to scare people away but you should at least know what you're getting into.

This is a big book (690 pages according to my ecopy, 849 pages in the hard back copy according to Amazon) and no one will accuse King of being a man of few words, but it reads quickly. One of my complaints is that I actually wanted it to be longer. The ending felt rushed and I wanted the pace slowed down to match the rest, so I felt like I was really getting the whole story.

The rushed ending isn't the only thing I had trouble with. As much as I really liked this, the scenes of Jake in Jodie are almost too perfect. He's instantly a loved and respected teacher among both the students and the faculty. He can instantly bring out the best in students. Now I didn't notice any of these issues while I was reading, it was only after I finished the book and I started thinking about it. (Of course it's been suggested this is on purpose and all part of the past not wanting changed, and I hope so because I like that better than King just gave him some Mary-Sue like qualities.)

Overall, I really liked this book. And I REALLY wanted people to talk to about the book while I was reading it. So if everyone could just read this book so we can all talk about it, that would be super.

Title quote from page 209

King, Stephen. 11/22/63: A Novel. Scribner, 2011. eCopy