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 50 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.
I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?
This is the third time I've read 11/22/63 and I think I've finally gotten everything I'm going to out of this book. Three reads is a significant amount of time to devote to these 800+ pages, and I think that shows how much I really do enjoy the story here, even if some of the writing started to grate my nerves this time around.
I'm usually hesitant starting a Stephen King book; not because I'm easily frightened and don't handle horror well (which is very true), but because I know I'm going to have to get very in touch with all of the character's feelings. King is either the most emotionally intelligent human on the planet, or he's only capable of expressing emotion through his characters; you have to be prepared to read about every thought, action, and feeling of the protagonist with no holds barred. I'd probably appreciate a bit more editing down to the heart of the story, but the man is an icon - if you're going to read one of his books, you know what you're getting yourself into.
11/22/63 is, above all else, a love letter to the past. Sure there's time travel, murder, and politics, but if you boil it all down, we're getting pure sentimental nostalgia for the better days of yesteryear. Who wouldn't be nostalgic for thicker root beer, real sugar, and friendly neighbours? Conveniently, the overt sexism and racism are mentioned once or twice but mostly swept under the rug to prevent it from destroying the hazy bliss of the late '50s and early '60s. Let's appreciate the good luck of the protagonist to be a white male travelling through time.
The time Jake spends in Derry and Dallas has a serious skin-crawling vibe. You can feel how 'off' these towns are with King's writing, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. The love story felt superfluous at times but really drove the point home about the past 'harmonising' and being 'obdurate'. I wonder how many times those two words were used in this book because, at times, it felt like they were in every other sentence. (Actually, I realised my kindle lets me search. Some form of the word 'harmony' is used 59 times, and 'obdurate' appears 26 times. Way too many times.) And this may be petty, but the 'dancing is life' catchphrase always reminds me of those embarrassing 'live laugh love' decals, and I have a hard time picturing an adult man speaking those words multiple times, let alone with reverence.
Overall, the plot is inventive and interesting, it just hinges on whether or not you believe that one American president has the influence and the ability to totally improve or destroy the world...