I haven’t read a Stephen King book since I started getting older and became a giant scary story pansy. Stephen King is responsible for my fear of clowns and creepy old houses and why I still often look under the bed in case a recently raised from the dead little kid with a scalpel might be lying in wait to slice my ankle. Stephen King does occasionally step out of the thriller genre to write other fantastic, non-scary books, and 11/22/63 is one of those books. Stephen King is such an amazing writer. He keeps the story interesting from beginning to end, which is no small feat because this book is a big mamma jamma. His storytelling is so good in this book that I predicted the ending about three quarters of the way through but was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t realize I had already guessed the ending until I was thinking back through the story the next day.
In 11/22/63 (the book, not the date), Jake is summoned by his dying friend, Al, to Al’s diner where he then tells Jake of a time portal that he has found in the pantry. Al explains that every time he steps through the portal, he arrives at the exact same place at the exact same time in 1958, and, regardless of how much time Al spends in the past, when he returns to 2011, exactly two minutes have passed since he first stepped through the portal. Al then convinces Jake to step through the portal and complete the mission that Al started but never got to finish – stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The problem is that the past doesn’t like to be changed, which Jake has to learn the hard way. There’s also a weird little drunk guy that hangs out by the 1958 portal whom Al has dubbed “the yellow card man” that seems to know that Jake isn’t supposed to be in this time period and whose change in character indicates that this mission might not be such a great idea.
This book is eerie but not scary, and, even though the plot is based on the science fiction element of time travel, it never gets hokey. You kind of have an idea where the story is going, but Stephen King maintains the suspense and keeps you flipping the pages. Another fun element of the book is that the reader gets to step back into a time gone by. I didn’t live in the 50s and I don’t read many 50s era books, so it was fun to be transported back into this “simpler” time period where Jake lives for five years waiting for November 1963.
Now for the cons. At one point, I got a little nervous that Stephen King was going to introduce an actual monster into the story, but, luckily, we veered away from that path. Also, occasionally I did find myself questioning the overall mission. Don’t get me wrong, the assassination of JFK was a very tragic event, but how much difference could preventing the event really make? I think the book does contain an underlying theme that everything, including horrible tragedy, has to happen to keep the world in balance, which would maybe be an interesting book club discussion but isn’t essential to grapple with in order to enjoy the book. Speaking of book clubs, the back of my paperback copy of the book included the usual book club discussion questions but also included music and 50s diner recipes to play and make for your book club meeting, which I think is super fun and made me wish I was in a book club.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I’ve heard rumors they might be making it into a movie, and that would be awesome as long as they don’t cast actors that veer dramatically away from how I pictured the characters in my head.