Home > 2012 Reading List, Books, Fiction, In the Media, Other People's Stuff, Something Like a Review, Writing > Something Like a Review – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Something Like a Review – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen KingI will do my best to set aside my hero-worship and fangirl-ism long enough to chat about this hefty tome, but understand that if my idolatry creeps in, I swear it’s not my fault. I’ve had an obsession with Stephen King’s stories since I was a teenager, I’ve spent years being mystified by his skills, and recently, have been trying to learn lessons from The Master to make what I do better.

That being said, I don’t think that everything he’s ever written is amazing. Not only would that be impossible, it would be bullshit. Those who’ve read Dreamcatcher or slogged through books 3 and 5 of the Dark Tower series (The Wastelands and The Wolves of Calla, respectively) know exactly what I mean. There are probably more that left me scratching my head trying to figure out where the hell the guy who scared the living bejesus out of me with It, or Pet Semetary decided to hide when the book was written, but they aren’t as memorable as the three I’ve mentioned.

For those who are looking for the traditional King book where blood is spilled in ways that sometimes make you cringe (don’t think about the shit-weasels, that’s not what I mean, but about Georgie’s missing arm…or the elevator and halls of the Overlook, or Carrie at the prom), you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s what you’re looking for, if that’s what you crave, don’t bother. This is not a slash and splash thriller. There are moments of gore and scenes with cinematic fighting, but 11/22/63 is different. It still provides the tension you’d expect from a man who fiddles with the dark side of our imagination, but this is a more introspective kind of horror. We all wonder “what if…,” and this story jumps in to answer it – and reveals the consequences of making “what if” happen.

I have seen more conflicting reviews on this book than I have on King’s others, and one of the ones that intrigued me most was posted by the lovable, if snarky, Insatiable Booksluts. Take a peek to see their Triple-Decker review (part 1 and part 2) – and enjoy their widely disparate views on the story. I’ll admit that I read their reviews before I had an opportunity to pick up the book and read it for myself, so I approached both the reviews and the book with a dose of skepticism, but after I knocked the fangirlism down a couple of notches, I will admit they do have some valid points, though I don’t agree with all of them. The plot lines are separated by a rift rivaled only by the Grand Canyon, and the 1950’s/60’s plot line has a tendency to meander and wander through the idyllic streets of Jodie, Texas. You know, since it’s safe and utopian and all. There is more foreshadowing and, as mentioned in one of the booksluttian reviews, “fortune telling” than I recall seeing ever before in a King novel. This isn’t to say the subtle clues that you realize later were clues, but you were too sucked in to see them for what they were, but big, thick, unmistakeable shadows drawn with the extra-large crayons they give little kids to fit in their chubby little hands before they can properly hold crayons. Or maybe these shadows were filled in with a Sharpie. All I know is that when I came across some of them, I tripped and then looked around to figure out what happened. It was unpleasant, somewhat jarring, but no worse than slamming across a pothole in a winter street. You wince, check to see if you made your tongue bleed when you bit into it, but you move on all the same. I’m guessing that these heavy-handed marks were to impart a sense of nostalgia, to convey that this story was told in almost memoir fashion, but the story didn’t need it and the tension would have existed without them.

Even with those frustrations, there was more to love about this book than not, and the detractors were overcome by the positives. I loved, loved, loved stepping back into 1958 and getting to peek in on Ritchie and Bev in Derry, post conflict. This is a testament to King’s world-building, which I’ve gushed about elsewhere, but it lends so much more richness to the story. It creates context and makes his world come more alive for the reader, creating a sense of familiarity, of returning home to familiar faces.

I’m not enough of a conspiracy theorist to know the ins and outs of the speculations regarding the Kennedy assassination. (Tinfoil hats just don’t come in my size, doggone it.) I do have a broad, generalized understanding, and it’s enough to get through the story. I loved seeing the interpretation of “what might have been,” and how the butterfly effect morphed into a flock of condors and shredded the fabric of our reality. It’s part of what brought the crazy story to balance, to make those harmonics Jake Epping liked to ramble about ring through to the end. You can make some wrongs right, but who’s to say that it’s not going to undo the good they inspired?

I love the underdog stories, the ones where the hero in charge of saving the world, of righting the wrongs and of surviving the impossible is in the hands of the Average Joe (or in this case, Jake), and this is certainly one of those stories. There’s no high-tech solutions, no secret file accidentally glimpsed in some obscure basement – just a regular guy trying to save one of the most powerful men in the world. All in the hopes of making the world he came from a better place. How could that possibly go wrong?

This is a mixed recommendation. If you’re looking for a book that will make you afraid to turn off your light and sleep, skip it. You’re only going to be disappointed. If you can put up with the minor annoyances for a good story and a “what if” interpretation, pick it up. You won’t be disappointed. I gave it 5 stars, but this one is going to swing from one extreme to the other, depending on your personal tolerances and love for conspiracies.

  1. February 26, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Thanks for linking to us! Rob and I were both totally conflicted on the book–me more than her, because reading King is like reading an old friend for me. I squeed when I realized he was in Derry right after the events of IT, and kind of wished we could have spent MORE time there. That would have been great as a book all on its own.

    • February 26, 2012 at 8:32 am

      Expect more! I love reading your blog. You guys are hilarious, entertaining and ruthlessly honest. Keep doing what you do and people like me will keep coming back for more.

      I’m totally with you on the sqeeing delight. It took a moment for me to register who he was watching at first, and then I devoured that scene. I was only disappointed that it wasn’t longer, and that it was the only time they interacted. The kids didn’t remember much of their childhood after the battle, so the door was wide open…why not walk through it instead of just hang out in the door way?

      Thanks for the comment. I look forward to more from the Insatiable Booksluts!

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