Thursday, November 10, 2011

The past is obdurate

by Stephen King

Stephen King started publishing books around roughly the same time I started reading them.  It was the mid 70s, and I was a precocious young thing.  I was fearless, and man I loved what he was writing!  I haven’t read nearly all of his novels in the decades since, but enough to have a pretty good familiarity with the universe that his works share.  Now entering my more fearful middle age, I can tell you there is, oddly, something deeply comforting about submerging myself again in his rich, folksy world where heroes are heroic, all stories come full circle, and pretty much all nagging questions are eventually put to rest.

The hero of 11/22/63 is Jake Epping, and early on in this novel he is presented with something inconceivable, a sort of wormhole in time.  It leads from 2011 Maine to September 9, 1958.  You can visit the past for as long as you like—years—but when you return to the present it’s always exactly two minutes later.  Every subsequent visit is a “reset.”  You can change the past (and consequently the present), but as Jake learns, “the past is obdurate.”  It resists.

There’s more to the set-up, of course, but that’s all you really need to know.  Because with this portal to the past, Jake is set on a mission that would probably be the goal of most every person of a certain age—to stop the Kennedy assassination.  I don’t think it resonates quite so strongly with those of us who weren’t around to remember Camelot, but, sure, 11/22/63 was one of the most pivotal days in this nation’s history.  It’s a day that surely scarred the psyche of every American alive who remembers it.

For long-time readers like myself, there are some wonderful Easter eggs to be found in 11/22/63, tying back to past novels, and probably to future ones as well.  It’s amazing how King does that.  Characters I haven’t seen for decades make cameo appearances and gosh it’s great to see them.  If Mr. King has one skill above all, it’s the ability to breathe life into his characters.  No wonder they live on long after their stories end.  And it’s not just the characters that feel like old friends, it’s merely inhabiting the King-verse with its familiar town names, attitudes, and themes.  Like I said, comforting.

So, if it’s not obvious already, I loved this novel from start to finish.  Heck, I read 849 pages in less than 48 hours.  But Mr. King might have written this one just for me.  I have a thing for time travel stories.  In fact, 11/22/63 has several similarities with an old favorite I recently re-read: Replay, by Ken Grimwood.  The ideas of this novel are pretty compelling, and it’s not surprising that others have explored them.  Reading the two so close together made for an interesting counterpoint, and did disservice to neither novel. 

One more thing…  In recent years I’ve read enough Amazon reviews to see readers of more right-wing political ideologies decry Mr. King for letting his somewhat more left-wing politics and social agenda bleed into his work.  If that’s the sort of thing likely to bother you, be forewarned.  The man’s a bleeding heart (and I’ve got no problem with that).

Thirty-seven years and several dozen novels after his first, Stephen King is still finding fresh stories to tell in inventive ways.  Yes, those familiar echoes are there, but somehow Mr. King is keeping his prolific output fresh.  11/22/63 is a blast from the past.  I’m glad I got to travel there with a dear old friend.

NOTE: I am not averse to shilling.  If anyone feels inclined to give this review a "helpful" vote on, I will gratefully accept it HERE.  Thanks!


  1. I'm catching up since being on vacation -- I preordered this one and hoped it would be in when I got back, but it's not here :(

    Ah, well. I love King and am very much looking forward to this one.

  2. It was quite an awesome book!!! I couldn't quit reading... Thanks for the review.