285 of 336 people found the following review helpful
Hey, dedicated Stephen King fans! You're in for an epic treat--an odyssey, a Fool's journey, an adventure with romance. A genre-bending historical novel with moral implications, this story combines echoes of Homer, H.G. Wells, Don Quixote, Quantum Leap (the old TV show), Jack Finney's Time and Again, and even a spoonful of meta-King himself, the czar of popular fiction.
The voice is familiar--the reluctant, lonely, courageous, romantic, destiny-bound hero/scarred social warrior. The story is King-esque- towering, prophetic, and flamboyant. This is mainstream entertainment; King is King of what King does--the unruly escapist story with a blazing heart. King is loyal to what he calls his "Constant Reader."
This is not horror, in case you are strictly old school fans. However, there is a touch of the supernatural via time-travel. If you are new to King, and are reading this for more insight into the fateful day of 11/22/63, or a "what would the world be like if...?," this is not King's principle design. It hovers, yes, and is material only to the primary theme.
Through a time portal in the storeroom of a greasy spoon diner, is a way back to 1958. Do we have the moral right to alter history, if we could? This is Jake Epping's noble journey--to answer that question--and, even more so, to ask it. King's demonstrates how the past and the present have a harmony that echoes, sings, dances, and shadows. He has refined his work from the genre horror, and the horrors that he now portray are undeniably real.
King provides details that make the time-travel plausible--suspending disbelief is playfully easy. Jake confronts the prophecy that "the past is obdurate," and "life can turn on a dime." Inevitably, his mission and his new life rub together, generating poignant conflicts and urgent demands.
King's strengths include his sense of place and time. He renders 1958 so specifically that you will be transported. Ten-cent root beers with foam; fin-tailed Chevrolets; cigarette smoke wafting inside and out; Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis from the jukebox; dancing cheek-to-cheek; mink and Moxie; rotary dial phones and party lines, and so much more to texturize the "Land of Ago." King makes it credible for memories to branch arterially from past to present, for different time periods to cast hazy shadows on each other.
"It's all of a piece...It's an echo so close to perfect you can't tell which one is the living voice and which is the ghost-voice returning."
Despite the voluminous research done by King into the Oswald controversy, his historical conclusions are woven into the book rather cursorily, but emphatically. Does this matter? It might. I was distracted at intervals. We don't have to necessarily agree with a character's actions, but if an historical context is displayed as fact, but the facts don't add up for the reader, then the framework strains to hold together. Then again, it might not matter at all.
The narrative is earnestly embellished, characters and motives occasionally simplified, and plot devices wistfully executed. He isn't one for much technical subtlety, and he justifies (too many) coincidences by cleverly making coincidence part of the theme. But this is King's signature style, and it works. I cared as passionately as Jake. Sadie, however, is the unforgettable character in this book. Jake/George may be the hero, but Sadie is the spirited touchstone. Comely, fetchingly clumsy, and wounded, she dances off the pages.
No popular author opens and closes a story like Stephen King. Enchanting and sublime, he builds deft bridges and ladders that are not only elaborate and infinite, but also inspired and relevant. He captures in a few chapters what an evocative song can capture in a few minutes. Whatever his flaws, his rewards are plentiful. Classy, cosmic, mystical, and kaleidoscopic--the story was radiant and clear, through a glass, darkly.
Addendum: Simon and Schuster sent me a copy in October for review. The views are entirely my own.
51 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2011
Many of you will cringe at the following sentence.
This is my first Stephen King book. Yes, I know. Stop looking at me like that and listen for a second. This book is amazing. The opening pages really did a lot to get me invested in the main character. When I say that, really I mean to point out that the writer did so much, with so little. It's a simple introduction to a complex character. Someone you will WANT to follow and see where the path leads. There is where many modern books fail, and fail hard in my opinion. Those first two pages are crucial in getting me hooked, and King managed to do that with just a few sentences.
JFK was, and still is an American hero to me. And while I do differ with Stephen's opinion on the lone shooter theory, that does not take away from what is done here. It is riveting work, and he obviously did a lot of research because some of the ways history ties into the main story is incredibly clever. Mixing my favorite fringe science genre (time travel) and one of my favorite characters in history so well is an accomplishment. I have had many day dreams myself about the what if's. What if we could go back? Who would we save, and how would we do it? It's all here, and what's here is fantastic.
Stop reading this, and START reading this book. You won't regret it.
64 of 77 people found the following review helpful
There are three categories of readers who will gravitate to Stephen's King's 11/22/63:
1. Fans of King's extraordinarily popular novels
2. Time travel junkies
3. Those who can't get enough of anything and everything to do with the events surrounding the assassination of President John Kennedy
I actually find myself falling into all three categories. I've been a Stephen King addict since I first read CARRIE back in the 1970's, I love time travel stories (from Bradbury's wonderful "A Sound of Thunder" to works by Heinlein, Dean Koontz, and H. G. Wells), and the Kennedy assassination was part of my childhood - I was in 6th grade when he was killed, and even at twelve I knew that something had been irrevocably changed that Friday afternoon in 1963.
King fans will undoubtedly love this novel. It's full of King's very special blend of memorable characters, small-town vignettes, and the idea that something dark and inscrutable lurks beneath the surface of life as we know it. This isn't a horror novel, but there is something horrible about what happens when a 35-year-old English teacher from a small town in Maine tries to make things right that should never have gone wrong. In the beginning, these are small things he tries to make better. By the end, it's a very big thing. But King never lets us forget that every action prompts an unknown number of reactions. And it's the reactions that can scare the bejesus out of us! As King writes in 11/22/63, we live in "a universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where morals dance in defiance of the dark." That's good stuff, Mr. King! And those who've read IT will delight in a particular sequence set in Derry, Maine.
Time travel aficionados will like the novel, too. This is not a science fiction novel (at least not in the technical meaning of the term), and King does little to explain his version of a "time machine" (which is not a machine at all). As one of his characters says, "Why ask questions when there are no answers?" But King's exploration of what might actually happen to the fabric of our world should we find ourselves capable of traveling back in time is fascinating. It's all not as easy as it seems. As King explains it, "Time is obdurate." It will have its way.
As for the JFK addicts, I have a slight warning (and if you're absolutely against any form of "spoiler" in your reviews, you might want to skip this paragraph): If you're looking for a revelation as to which conspiracy theory King adheres to when it comes to the assassination of President Kennedy, you're likely to be disappointed - and even a little bit surprised (especially in light of such politically charged novels as FIRESTARTER). 11/22/63 includes an interesting afterward in which King explains his take on the events that unfolded at Dealy Plaza. It won't sway the conspiracy theorists, but it fascinated me. This is a very different Stephen King. But if you're absolutely convinced that Oswald did not act alone, you might find yourself frustrated.
Overall, 11/22/63 is a well-plotted, satisfying novel that blends a bit of the supernatural with history. It both celebrates the nostalgic beauty of a time long gone, and forces us to look at the reality of that nostalgia - it wasn't all root beer floats and swing dancing. Best of all, the ending works - totally and completely. And that's a big deal for a Stephen King novel (I was not at all happy with the endings of either DUMA KEY or UNDER THE DOME). But I finished 11/22/63 with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.
Why the four stars? I have to admit the novel is too long. There are about 200 pages there in the middle that could easily have been edited down to 20 (King spends an awful lot of time on the minutia of Oswald's life - his various moves, his relationship with Marina, his conversations, his arguments, etc.). I got a little lost there, but King did pull me back in. The best parts of 11/22/63 actually have nothing to do with either Kennedy or Oswald - it's the life his narrator lives, both in 2011 and in the 1960's. I wanted to know Jake Epping (or his alter-ego, George Amberson). This story is his, and not Kennedy's.
I highly recommend 11/22/63. It's a truly wonderful and surprising read.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2011
I read pretty much everything Stephen King wrote for the better part of a decade. Even then, there were some misses along with the hits. For every The Stand, there was a Christine; for every It, there was a Firestarter. But then, some time in the early 90s, the hits started becoming more few & far between (Delores Clairborne; Gerald's Game; Rose Madder). I know some love the Gunslinger series, but that never resonated with me. While his short stories & novellas could consistently be counted on to producer at least some good enjoyable tales, the body of work was just not as good, especially with the full length novels.
I really enjoyed 11/22/63, though. Few characters in the King library of works are as fully drawn as Jake. The depictions of Derry & Dallas are equally vivid. Long time King fans will love the cross-overs to some earlier works, notably It.
Does it go on too long? Yes. There are about 200 pages of "today I watched Oswald brush his teeth... then he went to the store... he yelled at his wife when he came back". Even at his best, King could have benefited from an editor with the will to stand up to him & say, "hey, this can be trimmed down." The ending actually is the one part that feels a little rushed. I never did get the "Yellow Card Man" completely, nor the "Jimla" references - I kept waiting for something much bigger & profound, but it never materialized. In spite of those critiques, it still felt like a satisfying conclusion, emotionally.
King has an incredible ability to cause me to keep turning the pages. When he locks into a compelling story, as he does here, it is a joy to get in the backseat & let him drive... even if that drive meanders some. Solid 4 stars.
132 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2011
I have a feeling that if Stephen King were to lose both of his arms and legs in a terrible accident, he would find a way to type using his nose. This man needs to write like most of us need to breathe. What's intereting is that he started out as a genre writer tapping into the most primal fears of the American public. Over time he has developed into one of the most gifted writers of our time, a man whose memory of a past world is so clear and vivid that it's nearly as frightening as the monsters in his books.
King has left behind the standard horror genre for many years now, some could even trace it back to just after he recovered from being hit by a car. Something shifted in him and his writing as never been better.
I personally don't like to read massive plot summaries in reviews, there are plenty of other places to get that information. So, I will keep this simple. This book is a massive time travel epic involving an attempt to prevent JFK from being killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. That King makes all of this seem plausible is a testament to his wonderful gifts as a storyteller.
In a book this big there would have to be a lot of filler right? Wrong. Writers take note - whether you like horror books or not, pick up several King books and read them, especially some of the larger ones like "Under The Dome," or even "It" and watch how a talented novelists plots a book. 1,000 pages never seemed so small.
The writing doesn't draw attention to itself, rather it creates a very clear sense of time and place and allows the reader passage there. Maybe that's why the whole time travel plot didn't feel far fetched, because King's writing iteself is something of a time travel device transporting us back to the early 1960's.
Stephen King is a man who doesn't stop. I'm grateful for that.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2011
When I first heard that Stephen King was writing a novel dealing with time travel I got very excited because I am a time travel-loving, Stephen King fangirl. I've been reading his stories for half my life (started at 13) and I love his style of storytelling. I'm not a fan of other horror/gore though, so it's always been a bit of an oxymoron. Basically, time travel + Stephen King = a literary dream come true for me.
I loved this book. It was intriguing, interesting, informative, frustrating (in good ways), and it was very much Stephen King. He threw me for a loop several times, which is always a nice surprise when it seems like everything these days is utterly predictable. The main character is kind of an Everyman, though he definitely gains layers and definition throughout the story. I found myself trying to put a face to him a few times as I was reading, but I couldn't seem to do so. The task of going back in time to change an epic moment in history is lain upon him and the journey we take with him is as harrowing as it is fascinating.
It's not perfect (what is?)- it's at times repetitive and slow- but it has all the ingredients of a great Stephen King book and my expectations were pleasantly met.
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2011
I think it has been years since I have been able to get through a King book. I've thought of his recent efforts as a sad decline in quality. I was a huge fan of his earlier work, his collections of short stories, The Stand, IT etc. But in the past five years I've pretty much felt that he has lost it. This book, however, is wonderful. Does the actual writing compare to his earlier efforts? In my opinion, no, but it doesn't matter. This is still the King of old, a book you do not want to put down, even if you have to stay up all night to read it. It isn't the masterpiece that I felt The Stand was, nor as beautifully written as some of his older short story collections, but there is much to love in this newest effort. It is a satisfying ride, and you are sad when it ends.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I started reading King as a kid in the early 1970's - often bleary-eyed the morning after because I had stayed up half the night - often reading under the covers with a flashlight so my parents didn't catch me. When King is great there is a kind of "horror immersion" that takes place, and I particularly loved his long epic pieces like The Stand. I would be at the bookstore the day any new King novel was released. Sometimes his work could seem a little "Stephen King Formulaic" - but just when you thought maybe he had lost it - he reinvents himself either in the horror and suspense realm - or sometimes simply through great writing and storytelling, ala' The Green Mile.
In 11/22/63 King once again shows the reader he is the master, transporting us to a new time and place. Combine time travel with the Kennedy assasination, throw in a love story, and you have pretty much covered all the bases for a compelling novel. Like most King books we begin in Maine, but end up in Texas tracking Lee Harvey Oswald. A big book - it is lighter on King's trademark horror and more about compelling storytelling. It flattens a bit in the middle as our hero spends what seems like too much time just tracking Oswald, but overall a great read and one of the best King books in years!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2012
If you could go back in time and change history to make the world a better place would you. Stephen King tackles that theme in 11/22/63, taking us on Jake Epping's journey as he travels back in time as George Amberson from 2011 to stop the Kennedy assassination in 1963. We already know that King is one of the best modern horror writers, with this book he becomes one of the best modern fiction writers as well.
I'm not a fan of time travel fiction. It's easy for an author to make mistakes. Time travel can be tricky and often ends up being messy prose. King improves this type of storytelling by adding themes, choices, and consequences to his story. He does use the "Butterfly Effect" trope creating ripples throughout time and improves on this by making time fight back, the past in 11/22/63 does not want to be changed. King's prose is easy to read contributing to a great story.
Kings characters mesh making them believable. Their interconnections work great, especially when King contrasts Jake's failed marriage with Christy in 2011 with his love for Sadie in the 1960s. The friendships King writes for Jake with Al, Deke, and Ellie, also juxtapose themselves with reality creating a greater story and bringing depth.
One problem I do have with this book is the set up. King spends so much time describing the events from 1958 to 1963 that when he finally shows us what happened in the future it feels passé. I would have loved to have gone deeper into the changes after the assassination was stopped, delving further into the history of how the world changed rather than have just a couple of pages. Sure, we get hints and glimpses of what has happened since 63, and Jake mulls over the choices that he has made. For me as a reader, it just was not enough.
One of the unique passages within the book comes from the town of Derry where King brings us back to one of his older stories, "It". Not once but twice does King go back to the Maine town as he describes the Pennywise murders, Jake encounters Richie as well as Bev all the while he is trying to save a family that haunts him in his future. Using Derry grounds the story for Stephen King fans and allows them to know the world that he creates. It also allows King to build on the themes from Derry, such as Jake's feeling that something is not right in the town, and transpose them onto the city of Dallas as well. Derry provides a mystique to the book, allowing King to flow the mystery of time fighting back throughout the novel.
This book is Stephen King at his best, but it is still not his best book. For me that has to go to It. I still walk around looking down sewer grates scared that I will see Pennywise staring up at me ever since I read that novel in my teens. With 11/22/63, King proves that he is not just a genre writer, this is one of the best pieces of time historical fiction that I have ever read. I highly recommend this book to any historical fiction or Stephen King fan.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2011
I'll make this short, because its 1:00 a.m., and I just finished the book. This book is a massive 850 pages: The first third of the book was classic King, with an ensemble small down caste and fairly rapid action. The middle third was fairly slow going, spending alot of time on character development, but still managed to make me feel engrossed with the story. The final third I wont give away, only to say that you'll almost surely feel emotionally attached to the conclusion. Overall, I'd place it not in the top 5 of kings books, but possibly in the top 10.