What a book to start the year. I loved it. I was particularly intrigued by the original concept of the novel – travelling back in time to try and stop John F. Kennedy being assassinated in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 – and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I would go as far as saying ‘11.22.63’ was probably the most enjoyable and imaginative book I’ve read for a very very long time.
As this is King’s first proper time travel novel, ‘11.22.63’ isn’t one of his more typical horror books but it is still a page-turning thriller. Jake Epping, a teacher in Maine in 2011, is told by Al Templeton, a restaurant owner, that the storeroom of his diner is a portal to 1958. Dying of cancer and unable to save Kennedy himself, Al entrusts Jake with the task. Jake begins his new life as George Amberson, who first tries to save the family of his student, Harry Dunning, and later gets a job as a high school teacher where he meets and falls in love with Sadie, the librarian. Throughout, Jake continues to track the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald when he returns from the Soviet Union, leading up to the fateful day in November 1963 (King wisely chooses to ignore any alternative conspiracy theories in this version of events). This is a very sketchy summary of a 740 page book but I don’t really want to give anything else away!
It might at first seem unnecessary for King to send his characters back in time over five years before the real event in question and those expecting the book to be mostly about Kennedy and his assassination will probably be frustrated by the very slow beginning. However, it eventually becomes clear that there are some very good reasons for the gradual build-up. The butterfly effect, where even relatively small changes to the past can have far-reaching consequences, is brilliantly explored and exploited as a plot device and is the factor that really sustains the whole book which is carried along by excellent story-telling, great characters and vivid descriptions of the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. I particularly loved how King makes even the most mind-bending and far-fetched aspects of time travel seem totally believable. ‘11.22.63’ is an ambitious novel but never oversteps the mark.
I read King’s first published novel, ‘Carrie‘, last summer and although horror as a genre isn’t really my thing, I did quite enjoy it. Having now read one of his earliest and one of his most recent works, I will hopefully be filling in the gaps and exploring more of his other novels later this year.