11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have been a diehard fan of King since he scared the bejeezus out of me at the tender age of 12 when I read Salem's Lot. Please don't ask me what in the world a 12 year old was doing reading Salem's Lot; suffice it to say that it's complicated. I read MANY things in my youth that were well above what would be considered an appropriate age. That said, I have read almost everything (fiction & non) written by Stephen King. Given that, I'm about to say something I can't believe I'm going to about this author beloved by me. But here goes...
With 11/22/63, Stephen King has written a beautiful, painful, real and aching love story. Yes, 11/22/63 at it's heart is a love story. Said love story is wrapped around an amazing journey through time tied to stopping the assassination of JFK. What if you were given the opportunity to change the course of the world? Would you take it? What if it would only cost you 2 minutes in your "now" to spend several years with your goal to save our beloved president? Looking more promising? What if every trip back is an assumed reset? Meaning, if the outcome didn't work, you just travel back again to the exact time and place and everything is all reset? No harm; now foul. Would you do it?
Jake Epping did. He did so with with solely good intentions: stop a family from being murdered; stop a boy from being crippled savagely by his deranged father; stop a girl from being shot during a hunting accident, but most importantly; stop Lee Oswald from killing JFK. But here's the rub, and there's always a rub isn't there, the past is obdurate. Very...very obdurate.
In 2011, Jake Epping discovers a bubble in time which allows him to travel back to the the exact same place and day in 1958. After some small test runs, through the bubble, or rabbit hole one may say, he goes to become George Amberson armed with his knowledge of what will be he navigates this time and place directly towards Oswald with a plan to stop Oswald, somehow, before the murderous shots are fired at JFK.
During Jake/George's 5 years in the rabbit hole, King does what he does best by immersing the reader completely in that time. In a way, it feels like he's letting us in on his love affair with the period. But make no mistake, this is not the sugar coated 50s & 60s that we've heard from our parent or grandparents. Yes, there are the sock hops, gorgeous cars, unlocked doors in bucolic towns he also reminds us of the rampant racism, women "in their place," bad healthcare and all the ugly. But we come to love it nonetheless. King creates "place" like a master.
George (lets drop the Jake for now...in this past) meets lovely Sadie at a warm summer evening garden party. Sadie: beautiful, clumsy, broken, wonderful Sadie. George never had a chance really. Was it that obdurate past that brought them together? Another block? Fate? One doesn't know. And while I know I'm writing in an all to frilly manner about this, I'm happy to share that King does not. He does that other "thing" that he does best; he create real characters, multidimensional, heroic and flawed. That is why readers cannot help but fall in love with George and Sadie too.
In all this, I've only lightly brushed on the Oswald. King truly brings him in to a more human focus. For most of us, I'd venture to guess that the name Lee Harvey Oswald brings to mind the picture taken just as he's gunned down by Jack Ruby in the garage of the DPD. King uses the facts of Oswald's life to bring him out of that iconic picture to humanize him. Keep in mind, humans can be evil and ugly creatures. And we come to understand how ugly truly Oswald was as George weaves himself into the fringe of Oswald's fabric; keeping close, until the time (pun intended) is right.
I'll let you find out if George succeeds; and I'll let you found out if he can save JFK and keep his beloved Sadie. But I will say again, and again...the past is obdurate and the Butterfly Effect is in-calculable.
If it's not clear, allow me to be blunt. Read this book. If nothing else, because there's dancing. Sweet, sweet dancing. (And poundcake too!)
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