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Through the past darkly - a no spoilers review,
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This review is from: 11/22/63: A Novel (Hardcover)
"11/22/63", Stephen King's latest, might just be his greatest. Seriously. At least as far as "mainstream" fiction or "literature" goes. Yes, it is built around a well-used SF trope, time travel, but really, the portal to the past that Jake Epping is shown in the back of an aluminum diner is only the launch mechanism for this fantastic journey. There are no monsters here, at least none that aren't human, and little or no horror in the supernatural sense that King's constant readers have come to know, love and expect. Even SK's other "straight" fiction, "Misery", "Dolores Claiborne" and "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" come to mind, had elements of the supernatural and/or flat-out horror. Not this time.
But that doesn't mean that 11/22/63 is boring. Quite the contrary. Although it might seem that it would be tough to build suspense around a conclusion that seems to be inevitable, this turns out not to be the case. Big time. I just finished playing hooky from work for a day when I read the last 400 pages non-stop (except for a couple of bathroom breaks), because I just couldn't stop. I just kept pressing the advance button on my Kindle.
The adjective that first comes to mind in describing 11/22/63 among SK's oeuvre is, oddly enough, "mature". I have read every novel and anthology that King has published, plus a large number of single short stories, starting with "Carrie" in a borrowed paperback back in the late 1970s. I have never before thought of describing his work in any of them, many good, some great and a few clunkers (some of which I have reviewed as such), as mature. But that is the first, best word that comes to mind in describing 11/22/63. There were others too; exciting, romantic, bittersweet and, as with all SK's stuff, well-written.
Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination were obviously very well-researched, clear from the details in the text even before one gets to the afterword that describes some of the sources and methods used. The lead-up to the day of the assassination is described in great detail, along with Oswald's relationship to his family and associates, all matters of historical record (at least according to the sources cited by SK, with which most of the readers who did not like the novel disagreed emphatically). But I should point out that the facts concerning the Kennedy assassination are actually not the main focus of the novel.
The world of 1958-1963 is described in wonderful detail, through the eyes of Jake as he gradually sheds his early 21st century armored shell and falls in love with a small Texas town and Sadie, its new young librarian. Their love story is the centerpiece of the novel and is told with great depth, sensitivity and believability. I'm old enough to have experienced lots of the stuff that Jake encounters in 1958 (albeit as a child) and it jives with and jogs my recollections and induces a feeling of longing for older, simpler times. For King''s "Constant Readers", there are easter egg cameos from "It" and "The Langoliers" that I recognized. Knowing SK, there may well be others.
The ending is not predictable (if you say you saw it all coming you are either lying or should be a best-selling novelist) and is surprisingly satisfying. To those who say King doesn't know how to end his novels, I say, read this one.
Very Highly Recommended for all (even those who think they know but don't "like" Stephen King).
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Showing 1-10 of 77 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 16, 2011 4:30:11 AM PST
James--glad to see you have read, liked it, and reviewed it! Thoughtful review. And, I agree-the ending is not predictable--unless you are a psychic, mystic, or his editor!
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2011 5:51:15 AM PST
Thans for the generous comment. Obviously I really enjoyed it. Hard to imagine anyone NOT liking it unless they were looking for more turd monsters or necrophiliac rape scenes. I just pre-ordered the new Dark Tower entry. I think I might like that a lot too, as the Wolves of the Calla was one of my favorites of the whole series - I like the young Roland.
Posted on Dec 17, 2011 8:44:30 AM PST
C. Church says:
I love reading books on my Kindle, but how can a publisher justify charging close to $5.00 more for the electronic version over the hardcover? One of the advantages of any ebook reader is that the books should be LESS expensive thereby encouraging people to buy them. Sorry - but I'll be looking at one of the discount book stores for this not paying publishers exorbitant robbery prices.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2011 9:09:32 AM PST
I agree. No way should an electronic version be MORE than the hardcover (or paperback for that matter). And I think the argument that the Kindle versions should be even less expensive than they are now is hard to contest. I would think it fairer to pay something, say $9.99 for an e-book that sells for $20.00 in hardcover. But my Kindle version of 11/22/63 was $2.49 less than the hardcover, not more. So I am a little confused by your comment. Right now Amazon is listing the hardcover for $17.50 and the Kindle version for $14.99.
Posted on Dec 20, 2011 5:52:09 AM PST
Ivy Sciandra says:
Stephen King's endings sometimes just kill the book for me. Not this one. I loved every page of this book and the ending made me cry. I thought it was a wonderful book and probably his very best.
Posted on Dec 23, 2011 8:28:44 AM PST
Gayle G. Lin says:
I found it interesting that he gave credit to his son, author Joe Black, for giving him a better ending than he had.
And, surprisingly enough, I DID predict the ending.
Posted on Dec 23, 2011 9:28:41 PM PST
Marilyn Armstrong says:
Very cogent review. I am not a King fan, but I thought this an exceptionally well written and well thought-out novel; an excellent example of the genre, making it all the more remarkable for Stephen King whose genre this is not usually. Thank you for your intelligent review.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2011 5:37:50 AM PST
Thanks for the kind and encouraging words. It's always nice to hear that one's review is appreciated. And I agree that for SK, this was pretty much an out-of-genre experience. Perhaps that's why, in part, it's garnered such an overwhelmingly positive response - his Constant Readers (like me) loved it but so did a large number of folks who don't usually read him.
Posted on Jan 4, 2012 9:21:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 4, 2012 9:22:33 AM PST
Sgt. Paddy says:
Excellent review! Yours is the one that sealed the deal for me and made me go ahead and buy the book. Thank you so much for tipping me over that edge, because I LOVE it. I am only about 100 pages from the end, so I am rationing right now, because I don't want it to end! As for "Easter Eggs", I found one more... the Jodie football team plays "Arnett". Arnett, Texas was the fictional town from which Stu Redmond of "The Stand" originated. :)
Cheers, and happy reading!
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2012 10:52:22 AM PST
Thanks. Glad I helped get you to buy it! Good catch on Arnett, too. I suspected that there were more nods to past works. There was a TV adaptation of Bag of Bones a couple of weeks ago and I was looking for SK in a cameo. Didn't find him, and I think that was the first screen adaptation of a King novel or short story that DIDN'T give him one. Hpapy reading.