11/22/63 by Stephen King: The Past Can be a Blast


I was 5 years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas. I remember the day very well. I was annoyed that my usual fare of children’s television was not airing. Instead it was some boring news thing. I went into the kitchen to complain to my mother about it. She told me to play something since Superman and The Mickey Mouse show weren’t on.

Later that same day a lady from the nearby Air Force base housing area came and knocked on every house door in the neighbourhood, including ours. She said the same thing to everyone who answered their door, “The President’s been shot.”

Even at 5 years old, I could tell that this was bad. The grown-ups were crying and very upset. America changed on that day forever, as did the rest of the world. Stephen King’s book 11/22/63 looks at what could happen if someone was given a choice to change history or, to be even more basic, to change the past by travelling back to a time when things were easier and simpler.

Jake Epping finds out that his friend Al, the proprietor of Al’s Diner, has found a “doorway” into the past. A sunny September afternoon in 1958, 5 whole years before Jacqueline Kennedy is made a widow and her children orphans. Al shows Jake this doorway when he finds that he is dying of cancer and after his last trip, “down the rabbit hole” left him unable to save President Kennedy from dying at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Jake finds out that Al has been going through this doorway for years. Al also explains to Jake that no matter how long you stay in the past, when you return you’ve only been gone for 2 minutes. Al stayed for 4 years on his last trip in order to save JFK from getting killed. Unfortunately his heavy cigarette habit caught up with him before he could stop Oswald.

He makes Jake promise that he will try to save Kennedy from assassination. Jake goes back and changes one thing; he stops the school janitor’s father from murdering his mother and his siblings. He comes back to see what has changed for the janitor only to find that he died in Vietnam. Despite this minor setback, Jake decides to live up to his promise to Al and go back.

President Kennedy and the First Lady (Dallas 22/11/63)

This is Stephen King at his finest. For years I have always declared that The Stand was his best book. Probably because it was the first one of his books that I read. But I now stand corrected. 11/22/63 is without a doubt his best book to date.

King has always had a talent for making his characters seem alive and breathing. His cinematic style of writing also make his stories just as alive as his characters. He still lets us into the minds of the people he writes about, which helps to make them seem more real.

In this book he manages to keep track of all the threads of the story (or strings, as it were) and tie them up in a bow at the end of the story. King is really the only writer who can consistently make me cry and laugh at his stories. His books also make me partake in one continuous “read-a-thon” where I cannot put the book down until I’ve finished it. Once I’ve finished it and read his afterword notes, I pick it up and read it again.

I think I got so swept away by the story because of the time period that is was set in. I was a small child in the 60’s and became a teenager in the 70’s. Apart from living in Sacramento California when I was 5, I grew up in the south. The picture he paints of the time, people and area is spot on.

When he writes of the small Texas town where Jake meets Sadie, I can “see” the teenagers with their flat tops and Ked sneakers and penny loafers (with a dime stuck in the front of the shoe) and I can taste the king size Cokes and smell the ever present cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke. As Jake points out, everyone smoked in the 50’s and 60’s. These were the last days of innocence in America. We’d won the war. John Wayne was still number one at the box office and America was the golden land of opportunity.

It was also the days of racial segregation, the KKK and “better dead than red.” There were towns in the south that did not allow black people to live within their hallowed city limits. A time when the Army and the police and the National Guard had to escort black students to a white school. It was also Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Russia was the “big bad” that the world faced and nuclear weapons were what we dropped on Japan and Russia beat us into space and had atomic weapons.

I can still remember the signs of restaurants and cafes that said, “No Coloured’s” and of course the all-purpose catch-all, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody.” This would change in the 70’s when it was no longer deemed appropriate to be racially bigoted. The signs were replaced with the, “No shirt, No shoes, No service.” This prejudice against the long-haired, peace-loving, hippies was acceptable.

It is this backdrop that Jake has to inhabit. And we are there with him, every step of the way. But Jake is not alone, he feels like the past is actively fighting him every step of the way on his journey to save the US president from assassination.

He learns that the past doesn’t want to be changed.

If I used a star system for rating books I’ve read, 11/22/63 would get a 5 out of 5 stars. So okay the idea isn’t necessarily original, King himself writes about Jack Finney‘s Time and Again. But it is the way it is written that makes this a classic tale and one worth reading.

In my humble opinion, Stephen King is, as his name suggests, the crowned head of popular fiction. I don’t think that he is in any danger of losing his crown.

Stephen King.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

15 thoughts on “11/22/63 by Stephen King: The Past Can be a Blast”

  1. I borrowed this from someone and haven’t had a chance to read yet but I’m so glad to hear that it’s so good! πŸ™‚ The Stand is my absolute favorite of his – I read it once a year.

    Like

  2. Hey, Mate!! As Marilyn has said, I absolutely LOVED this King book and I’m not an avid fan. Just from a writing pointing of view, it is beautiful!! I remember pausing in my read to go back and re-read out loud certain passages. King’s crafting of words are like music, perhaps a sad ballad. Years ago, I used to do that with folks like Steinbeck and Hemingway whose style, cadence and prose captured my fancy. It may surprise some but there’s another book whose prose still grabs me. That’s James Jones’ “From Here To Eternity”. The scene where Prew plays “Taps” for Maggio. It is achingly beautiful!! As for the events of 11.22.63, I still remember the day clearly. I was 21. Heard the news at the college radio station where I used to spend many hours. I was stunned as were most of my friends who used to feign cynicism and worldliness. It was, indeed, a loss of innocence.

    Like

    1. I couldn’t agree more on the musical cadence in King’s writing of this book. (Damn! I wish I’d said that!!) I also agree on your assessment of Jone’s From Here to Eternity. I guess great minds really do think alike.lol Thanks for commenting mate!! Cheers! πŸ˜€

      Like

      1. A lot of the history and films I enjoy are set in those times and earlier so I could almost picture myself there when reading the book. It sounded like a great place to be! For me it started to lose it when he got to osawld

        Like

  3. I remember the day … I was 16 and in my freshman year of college. And I also read the book, which I think is probably the best book King has written in many a long year. Then Garry read it … and he is not a King fan, but thought the book was so beautifully written that he read parts of it out loud … more like poetry than prose. And a very good piece of science fiction too. Thank you for the great review.

    Like

    1. I’m going back through my comments and trying to answer everyone I missed. I just found that I did not say thanks for your “thanks” and I know I would have made reference to the fact that as the world moves forward, fewer and fewer of us are around who remember what we were doing on the day that JFK was shot. In another 15 to 20 years it will be even less. It’s almost the same as folks who can remember where they were or what they were doing on the day man first walked on the moon. Sobering thought…

      Like

Let me know what you think!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.