If you could go back in time and change the course of human history would you do it? Even if it meant sacrificing so much of your own life in the process?
Well that’s the premise of Stephen Kings 54th fiction book, 11.22.63.
King gives us a new protagonist in the form of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls Maine, because of course he is. It doesn’t take long for King to uproot our heroes life and sent him hurting back through time to the world of 1958 small town America.
Gone are the cell phones and tablet computers, now Jake finds himself in a world filled with Elvis, Plymouth cars, a beautiful librarian called Sadie Dunhill, and of course a troubled loner called Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who slowly comes to dominate Jake’s life.
11.22.63 is Stephen King at something resembling his best. His prowess with weaving together political, social and popular culture into this version of baby-boom America is exquisite. The suspense is palpable across most of its many pages, not to mention its many trips through time.
King is best known for his out and out horror novels, and while this certainly isn’t a horror book it does have enough existential and psychological dread to keep the heart pounding and the mind racing.
The complexities and ethical dilemmas of time travel are well explored in 11.22.63, what will altering the past do to the future? What will it mean for Jake personally? Will he really be creating a better world or is that some naïve hope he must cling to to see his mission fulfilled?
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You see no matter how long Jake spends in the past when he returns to his own time only two minutes will have elapsed, this allows him the chance to go back in time over and over again to the same point and keep trying to change the past and the future. If something doesn’t work out to his liking, and quite often it doesn’t, he can try again, but something, perhaps the past itself, really doesn’t like being changed. The closer Jake gets to his goal the more something out their in the universe wants him to fail.
While this was a good read, with many interesting questions to ponder, it does get bogged down a little during the middle section. Across many of the middle chapters the suspense and tension we had come to love waned slightly, never disappearing but certainly lessening its grip upon you. During this part King focuses on the romance between Jake and Sadie, which while interesting was certainly a good deal longer than it needed to be, about two hundred pages longer if I’m honest.
Once we get into the final third of the book though the action picks up once again and King does a good job at answering most of the questions he posed at the beginning. It’s a mostly satisfying conclusion which wasn’t quite worth the lengthy wait but rounded out the story nicely enough.
All in all this was a good read that I’d recommend for fans of King or time travel stories in general. Just be warned it is a long slog and the ending isn’t quite worth the time invested. King is great at creating his characters, and Jake is no exception, he’s a down on his luck teacher striving to find purpose in the mess that his life has become, he’s no larger than life hero, he’s simply a man doing what he believes is right. But not amount of interesting characters will improve the poor pacing on offer here.
11.22.63 is available from Amazon.