Friday, March 23, 2012

11/22/63 - Stephen King


This is the second Stephen King novel I have ever read, Carrie being the first.  I honestly did not know what to expect from him.  I have always thought of King as one of those novelists who churns out a new novel like clockwork and, while great at the start, has probably allowed the quality of his work to diminish.  Granted, I had no basis for that, as 11/22/63 has delightfully proved.
King has stepped into the realm of science fiction time travel with this, his 50th novel.  The story centers around a small-town Maine teacher who is recruited by a dying diner owner to return to the middle of the 20th century and kill Lee Harvey Oswald.  The hope is that preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy would also prevent Vietnam and other 20th century tragedies.  Once you get the gist of the plot, the ending becomes expected.  The predictability, however, does not detract from the quality of the prose.

King writes very well.  There is no doubt about that.  He is a very detailed writer, which is proven by the size of the novel.  849 pages are nothing to scoff at.  Yet, the story is engaging and you become wrapped up in the life of George Amberson and his 1960s love, Sadie Dunhill.  While King sometimes stretches his characters to become caricatures, they remain both believable and relatable.  King's characters have nuance and struggles.  Even Oswald cannot be seen simply as a cold-blooded killer, although he is certainly no protagonist.  The real antagonist in this story is the past itself, which King repeatedly describes as obdurate.  The past does not want to be change and therefore our teacher hero faces many a battle on his path to save the President.

For a book about time travel, 11/22/63 is surprisingly easy to understand.  King breaks down his rules for time travel without dumbing them down, a tactic that this reader greatly appreciates. (I've read enough science fiction; I don't need you to explain time travel to me, just update me on what you've decided the rules are.)  There was one moment, however, where King really dropped the ball (SPOILER ALERT).  In the middle of the book, George is suddenly faced the similarities between the woman he has fallen in love with, Sadie Dunhill, and a woman whose life he saved, Doris Dunning.  The moment is very confusing and, if Internet is any indication, I was not the only one who felt that way.  In fact, as I was reading, I was certain that I had somehow missed some incredibly important plot connection and that everything was suddenly coming together without me understanding it.  I jumped onto Google and discovered that many other had felt this same way.  In reality, as the rest of the book goes on to show, there is no connection between the women outside of their analogous abusive marriages.  

I really enjoyed this novel.  It did get bogged down in details a few times, but that is really to be expected from such a long work.  There are going to be parts that are less interesting than others for any reader.  In the end, though, because of this book, I will undoubtedly read more of King's work.  

Pages: 849
Date Completed: March 22, 2012

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