My King journey continues…
WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11.22.63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .
King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 – from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
With extraordinary imaginative power, King weaves the social, political and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation into a devastating exercise in escalating suspense.
After reading three fantastic King books this year, I was bound to stumble upon one that didn’t really work for me. 11.22.63 started off great, I was really interested in the story, I don’t read huge amounts of books that feature time travel, but like most literary things, King has mastered it. He created huge amounts of suspense around Jake’s “mission”, and the concept of time travel itself.
“The past is obdurate”
King has you questioning the practicalities of time travel, how the past alters the future, what it means for Jake personally, and who the hell is the “yellow-card man”? – oh yes, there is plenty of intrigue in this novel’s opening. So many questions, no matter how long Jake spends in the past, only two minutes have passed in the present day – that is a concept I can fall into a black hole thinking about. But I have to say my absolute favourite bit of this novel was the reference to IT – the more of King’s books I read, the more I see how he cleverly mentions places and/or characters from his other books, the reference here is done in a way that makes sense within the current story, but 11.22.63 becomes that bit more special if you have read IT – it’s also fun to look out for references to his others books.
Now, where this novel fell flat for me was the entire middle portion. It was slow, lacking in suspense and tension and nothing really seemed to happen. It was a romance between Jake and Sadie and I didn’t care much for it. This novel could have been a good three/four hundred pages shorter than it was, and it would have been more impactful as there wouldn’t have been such a stagnant middle portion.
Things did pick up towards the end of the novel, and it was great to have some of my questions answered, but the ending wasn’t worth the wait. I’d lost so much interest in the plot that when things began to pick up in the last quarter, the tension was back, it was just too late, it wasn’t enough to pull me back in and make me care about what was happening.
I read this novel as part of a readalong, and I was speaking to my fellow readers in the US and we were discussing the possibility that I may have had an initial disconnect with the book as I live in the U.K. To be precise, I live in the U.K. and knew nothing beyond that fact that JFK was assassinated, so the historical accuracy of this novel was lost on me – to the point where I thought Oswald was a character of King’s creation, pure fiction. Maybe, if I was better informed, I may have enjoyed the slower parts of this novel, maybe not….
What I do know is that this has not deterred me from continuing my journey through King’s works. With such a vast backlist, I’m bound to come across the odd weed among the roses. I really like the idea of this novel, using a real-life event that impacted millions, to show the knock-on effect our actions have, it’s just a shame the execution of this one didn’t work for me.