Stephen King is known as one of the best short-story writers of our time and I for one like his work. This review is on a novel called 11.22.63 about the assassination on J.F.K.; John F Kennedy.
In the book a school teacher from Maine in the United States is given the opportunity to change history. The chance is given to him by an owner of a semi-popular diner in Maine who sells burgers at 1950s prices. The owner who is named Al shows Jake Epping a portal called a “Rabbit-Hole” that allows him to go back to 1958 a year without mobiles, computers and the internet but the catch is when he returns to the future and then re-enters the portal all of the changes that he made in the past get reset.
After a quick tour of the past Jake meets a drunken rugged looking man with a yellow card in the brim of his hat who asks for a dime. He goes to a local watering hole and drinks the best tasting root bear he has ever had.
Jake returns to a dyeing Al who pushes on him the mission to save J.F.Ks life and change the future. From a dream Jake realizes that the schools’ janitor suffered a horrific attack when he was a child and decides to take on the mission to prevent this from happening. He is given a new identity, some money and sent on his way.
On his first mission Jake Epping, who will be taking on the identity of George Amberson, sets out to stop the horrific attack on the janitor but finds out that changing the past is not as easy as it seems and at every turn the past tries to stop him. The fact that he has secret agent ability’s to stake out houses and interview potential targets is confusing and as the story continues in later chapters his skills improve to using bugging technology.
After a semi-successful intervention towards the janitors family attack he returns to the future to see if his efforts have changed for the good or bad but finds out that the janitor he saved ends up dying in the Vietnam War.
With this knowledge and the sudden death of Al the diner owner Jake must decide if he really wants to take this huge mission for four years…
From now one I will be referring to Jake as George as from this point in the story he is known as George Amberson and doesn’t refer to his real name until the end of the story.
…he takes on the mission with renewed drive but when he enters the portal he finds the Yellow Card Man is dead. We don’t examine or even question what happened to him we just move on into the world of 1958.
He slips into his new world by taking on the role of substitute English teacher and secrete agent. He falls in love with the schools librarian, Sadie, who has her own troubled life that he must decide to intervene or stay the course on finding out if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president.
Now this is where it slows down for me as the story comes to a standstill at points exploring the life of George and his love for Sadie. He organizes school plays, love making and trips out into the wild every weekend. The book does keep us interested in the main plot with nightmarish dreams of the Yellow Card Man.
From this point Sadie realises that George is not who he says he is and he must choose to tell her the truth or lose her.
George takes a huge bet on a boxing match that he is expected to lose but when it turns out that his boxer of choice wins he nearly loses his life… I really like the way the story explores the way that even though you might have a notebook full of winning matches from 1958 until the present you can’t just jump through the portal and become a millionaire. When you make a bet on a match that you know the outcome you are thrown into the dark reality of the gang run gambling syndicate who don’t want their money changing hands. This is what I liked about the way King kept the reality on gambling in his novel…the last betting result which put George in a comma and gave him amnesia leaves me wondering if the attack was a result of his gambling or the past trying to prevent him from getting closer to his objective.
With his memory loss and a damaged body George must somehow remember all the details to how his going to stop Oswald.
Again we go over the evidence and drive around town to relodge George’s memory but suddenly after coming in contact and having a quick read of his notebook with all the details of the assassination George’s amnesia disappears.
On the day of the assassination George and Sadie set out to get to the location where Oswald is going to take the shot at J.F.K but the past unleashes every obstacle trying to stop them by making their car broke down, the bus they’re riding crash and the driver of a pickup truck they waved down try and mug our sweet Sadie.
Luckily through a touch of luck George finds a Green Sunliner, the car of his dreams, and makes it to the book depository where Oswald is in position. They run up the stairs and rush into the room to stop him.
In the heat of the moment George stumbles and his beloved Sadie takes a direct hit from gun wielding maniac Oswald. We are left to decide if the death of the Liberian is due to her being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the past is harmonising itself.
George is arrested and questioned by the Dallas police and the FBI. He manages to convince them that he was not an assailant but strangely our hero is asked to fall off the map and to never return. He agrees and heads back to the “Rabbit-Hole” to return to the future to see the outcome of his heroic actions but his main objective is to reset the death of his love.
As he heads to the location of the portal he is greeted by a Green Card hat man. He is told that his stopping of the assignation has screwed up the entire future and that he must return to see what he has done and to reset everything back to it was before his meddling.
Now our main character loses his adopted name and takes on his birth name again. Jake returns to a world that is on the brink of destruction from Mother Nature. He learns that his efforts in the past have caused tension on the cords of time and everything will soon snap and the world will end.
He returns to the day that he first entered the world in 1958 and spends two years contemplating meeting the love of his life or leaving her to her own future.
He decides to return to the present where everything is as it was when he first found out about the “Rabbit-Hole” and starts a mission to find his love.
Sadie is now in her eighties and a much respected political person. She heads out to one of her town parties that has been held in honour of her work over the years and confronts with an offer of a dance.
Everyone that he met in the past but older are all there watching on as they dance. Sadie reveals that she somehow has a feeling she knows him and a small bond is created. The ending gives you a sense of wholeness and that love can still travel through and long the strands of time.
My Final Thoughts
I enjoyed to book up until the middle when it slowed right down to a crawl which left me wanting to put the book down for good but the occasional nightmarish dreams of the Yellow Card Man kept me going to find out what this character really was and how he would play out in the story.
As for the ending I can’t decide if I was really happy or left cheated. I know I shouldn’t ask for armageddon on the scale of nuclear war or the United States invaded or colonised by Russia or an unknown enemy but that’s what I wanted and that’s why I felt cheated. The actual ending gave me the image of a giant guitar in the sky with hundreds of cords splitting one after the other until our hero rushes back to the portal before the last cord breaks with the world ending. Just from this image I selfishly felt cheated but in a whole I enjoyed the book.
From a rank of 1 to 10 I put Stephen King’s 11.22.63 Novel at 7.