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11/22/63: A Novel Paperback – July 24, 2012
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About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Sleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, the Bill Hodges trilogy End of Watch, Finders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and now an AT&T Audience Network original television series), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63—a Hulu original television series event—was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle—also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano—complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest, things in my life.
I came awake with a jerk, hearing someone mutter “Still not too late” under his breath. I realized it was me and shut up.
Sadie murmured some thick protest and turned over in bed. The familiar squeak of the springs locked me in place and time: the Candlewood Bungalows, April 5, 1963. I fumbled my watch from the nightstand and peered at the luminous numbers. It was quarter past two in the morning, which meant it was actually the sixth of April.
Still not too late.
Not too late for what? To back off, to let well enough alone? Or bad enough, come to that? The idea of backing off was attractive, God knew. If I went ahead and things went wrong, this could be my last night with Sadie. Ever.
Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.
True enough. Oswald was going to relocate to New Orleans for awhile after the attempt on the general’s life—another shitty apartment, one I’d already visited—but not for two weeks. That would give me plenty of time to stop his clock. But I sensed it would be a mistake to wait very long. I might find reasons to keep on waiting. The best one was beside me in this bed: long, lovely, and smoothly naked. Maybe she was just another trap laid by the obdurate past, but that didn’t matter, because I loved her. And I could envision a scenario—all too clearly—where I’d have to run after killing Oswald. Run where? Back to Maine, of course. Hoping I could stay ahead of the cops just long enough to get to the rabbit-hole and escape into a future where Sadie Dunhill would be . . . well . . . about eighty years old. If she were alive at all. Given her cigarette habit, that would be like rolling six the hard way.
I got up and went to the window. Only a few of the bungalows were occupied on this early-spring weekend. There was a mud- or manure-splattered pickup truck with a trailer full of what looked like farm implements behind it. An Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. A couple of station wagons. And a two-tone Plymouth Fury. The moon was sliding in and out of thin clouds and it wasn’t possible to make out the color of the car’s lower half by that stuttery light, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, anyway.
I pulled on my pants, undershirt, and shoes. Then I slipped out of the cabin and walked across the courtyard. The chilly air bit at my bed-warm skin, but I barely felt it. Yes, the car was a Fury, and yes, it was white over red, but this one wasn’t from Maine or Arkansas; the plate was Oklahoma, and the decal in the rear window read GO, SOONERS. I peeked in and saw a scatter of textbooks. Some student, maybe headed south to visit his folks on spring break. Or a couple of horny teachers taking advantage of the Candlewood’s liberal guest policy.
Just another not-quite-on-key chime as the past harmonized with itself. I touched the trunk, as I had back in Lisbon Falls, then returned to the bungalow. Sadie had pushed the sheet down to her waist, and when I came in, the draft of cool air woke her up. She sat, holding the sheet over her breasts, then let it drop when she saw it was me.
“Can’t sleep, honey?”
“I had a bad dream and went out for some air.”
“What was it?”
I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my loafers. “Can’t remember.”
“Try. My mother always used to say if you tell your dreams, they won’t come true.”
I got into bed with her wearing nothing but my undershirt. “My mother used to say if you kiss your honey, they won’t come true.”
“Did she actually say that?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it sounds possible. Let’s try it.”
We tried it.
One thing led to another.
Afterward, she lit a cigarette. I lay watching the smoke drift up and turn blue in the occasional moonlight coming through the half-drawn curtains. I’d never leave the curtains that way at Neely Street, I thought. At Neely Street, in my other life, I’m always alone but still careful to close them all the way. Except when I’m peeking, that is. Lurking.
Just then I didn’t like myself very much.
I sighed. “That’s not my name.”
I looked at her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying her cigarette guiltlessly, as people do in the Land of Ago. “I don’t have any inside information, if that’s what you’re thinking. But it stands to reason. The rest of your past is made up, after all. And I’m glad. I don’t like George all that much. It’s kind of . . . what’s that word you use sometimes? . . . kind of dorky.”
“How does Jake suit you?”
“As in Jacob?”
“I like it.” She turned to me. “In the Bible, Jacob wrestled an angel. And you’re wrestling, too. Aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am, but not with an angel.” Although Lee Oswald didn’t make much of a devil, either. I liked George de Mohren--schildt better for the devil role. In the Bible, Satan’s a tempter who makes the offer and then stands aside. I hoped de Mohrenschildt was like that.
Sadie snubbed her cigarette. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were dark. “Are you going to be hurt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going away? Because if you have to go away, I’m not sure I can stand it. I would have died before I said it when I was there, but Reno was a nightmare. Losing you for good . . .” She shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not sure I could stand that.”
“I want to marry you,” I said.
“My God,” she said softly. “Just when I’m ready to say it’ll never happen, Jake-alias-George says right now.”
“Not right now, but if the next week goes the way I hope it does . . . will you?”
“Of course. But I do have to ask one teensy question.”
“Am I single? Legally single? Is that what you want to know?”
“I am,” I said.
She let out a comic sigh and grinned like a kid. Then she sobered. “Can I help you? Let me help you.”
The thought turned me cold, and she must have seen it. Her lower lip crept into her mouth. She bit down on it with her teeth. “That bad, then,” she said musingly.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m currently close to a big machine full of sharp teeth, and it’s running full speed. I won’t allow you next to me while I’m monkeying with it.”
“When is it?” she asked. “Your . . . I don’t know . . . your date with destiny?”
“Still to be determined.” I had a feeling that I’d said too much already, but since I’d come this far, I decided to go a little farther. “Something’s going to happen this Wednesday night. Something I have to witness. Then I’ll decide.”
“Is there no way I can help you?”
“I don’t think so, honey.”
“If it turns out I can—”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate that. And you really will marry me?”
“Now that I know your name is Jake? Of course.”
Top customer reviews
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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).
Only one thing tempered my appreciation of this story, and that was its length. This book is huge! I started out reading it quite voraciously, and it speedily took off and went at a great pace. However, like the protagonist, who must wait several years to accomplish what he went to the past to do, I felt like I had to slog through a long period of life events, all of them good and many of them even electrifying, but the sheer bulk of time and events that passed between the beginning of the adventure and its end did wear on me. I actually put the book down for several months, although it was easy enough to pick it back up once an opportune camping trip gave me time to sit back and read, and I was once again hooked through the end. Honestly, I feel like any author less prolific and venerable than King would have been advised to cut a quarter of the book. Now, when I look at the content I would personally remove as extraneous, I realize that some characters and events which I quite enjoyed reading about would have to go, but I think it would still improve the novel overall.
I don't doubt that many bookworms, and Stephen King aficionados, would disagree with me about the book's length, and to them I say congratulations on having that much time and undivided attention for this book. I did enjoy it very much, would even say it captivated me with a spell the likes of which only King can dream up, but it was a serious venture to go from cover to cover. Very worth doing, however.
11/22/63 is a novel about a time-traveler named Jake Epping who attempts to travel back and stop the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I think that if you've heard of the book, and have even an inkling of an idea what it's about, you know that it's about that (so I don't feel like I'm spoiling anything there). Now, as big of an undertaking as that is, imagine you had to do it while the obdurate past was against you. Constantly pushing back against any unwelcome changes to its linear history. That is what Jake must face. And along the way he meets a plethora of diverse and dynamic characters, visits many interesting cities and towns in Maine, Florida, Texas, and even falls in love. I was touched enough by the ending to shed a tear, and that typically leads to a five-star rating from me.
I imagine that I'll be thinking back on this story for some time to come. The past harmonizes after all.