“Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students — a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane — and insanely possible — mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life — a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.”
Thoughts: If you were given the opportunity to go back in time, would you do it? Such is the choice facing Jake Epping in Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Having become privy to a secret “wormhole” that always leads back to 1958, Jake has been tasked to change history’s biggest watershed moment, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Yet, spending five years in the past is not without its consequences, as Jake soon learns. After all, the past is obdurate. As Jake gets more comfortable with his new lifestyle and begins executing his master plan, certain events force him to rethink his entire mission. What follows is a thrilling journey through time, as Jake races to make tough decisions that will impact not only his own happiness but the entire world.
Jake is the type of hero for whom it is easy to cheer. There is an affability about him that makes it so easy for a reader to become engaged in his story. He is the cool teacher who knows when to joke with and when to push students, the kind one remembers fondly as one of his or her larger influences in high school. He is the next-door neighbor who lives a quiet, unassuming life but is always there when you need a helping hand. He is unobtrusive but still manages to make an impression as a genuinely nice guy. Because of this, a reader is immediately drawn to his story as he wanders through time and is faced with unfathomable choices. There is no ambiguity to his character. The reader unequivocally knows that Jake will always have the best intentions at heart. Because of Jake, 11/22/63 is as fun and absorbing as it is. Told by anyone else, and occurring to anyone with any semblance of agenda would ruin the effect.
The historical details are where 11/22/63 absolutely sparkles. Mr. King’s highly-detailed prose leaves no room for error in allowing readers to imagine life in 1958-1963. Everything from the scents in the air to the taste of the food to the lack of sound at night to the various personalities, Mr. King deftly describes it all, creating am almost third or fourth dimension to the novel. Even better is the fact that Mr. King does not romanticize the past. He portrays both the positives and the negatives of the era, providing as real an image as one could possibly imagine without actually being there. More importantly, Mr. King’s research into the era pays off with detailed descriptions and explanations of Lee Harvey Oswald’s actions leading up to November 22nd and helps to dispel some of the conspiracy theories that continue to abound. While he falls short of humanizing this most infamous of all assassins, readers have a better understanding of why Oswald acted as he did. Because this is as much a work of history as it is a work of science fiction, the details matter. Thankfully, Mr. King delivers on all counts.
Craig Wasson is an excellent choice as narrator. His performance is practically seamless, making it all too easy to forget that he is not actually Jake Epping. Mr. Wasson has just the right amount of gravel in his intonations that makes his voice age-appropriate. His New England, Texas, and Georgia drawls are spot-on without being overdone. His performance of Jake’s reactions to his initial foray into 1958 are absolutely priceless as well as infectious; a reader is left longing for the opportunity to experience that amazing root beer, just as Jake does. Mr. Wasson’s performance, combined with Mr. King’s words, makes 11/22/63 an excellent example of an audiobook.
11/22/63 is an ambitious and fascinating cross-genre novel that highlights Mr. King’s ability to tell a story. Those readers who were too young to experience the 1950s and 1960s can easily evoke the era through Mr. King’s thorough descriptions. Those who remember exactly where they were when President Kennedy was shot will be immediately drawn back to those years, able to clearly recollect the good and the bad about the early 1960s. Jake is a natural everyman hero, someone readers can easily picture as their favorite teacher or even a beloved relative. This familiarity adds a strength to his character that would not have existed had he been anything other than his down-home, grass-roots self. The story itself, as it weaves in and around Dallas, drawing closer to the deadline, is absolutely entrancing, with its comprehensive historical details, intriguing science fiction appeal, and poignant love story. With 11/22/63, Mr. King proves that he has not lost his ability to compose an engaging and addictive story.
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.