Stephen King Review
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 17:02
King's latest novel introduces us to Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher from Maine, who makes a little extra money teaching night classes for adults who want to receive their GED. One day, Jake gives his class an assignment to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay in particular catches Jake off guard.
The essay was written by the school's janitor, Harry Dunning, and it describes the night fifty years in the past when Harry's father came home and killed his brother, sister and mother with a sledgehammer. The essay deeply affects Jake, in more ways than one, and it is not long after this that Jake's friend Al, who owns a local diner, lets Jake in on a little secret: there is a storeroom at the back of the diner that hides a portal to the to a specific day in the year 1958.
Anyone who enters the portal is taken fifty years into the past. It is then that Al enlists Jake on a mission that could change the entire course of American history: prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Needless to say, Jake accepts this mission, and so begins his new life as George Amberson, and his new life in the "new" world in the past. It is a world of segregation and Elvis Presley and American cars and perpetual cigarette smoke. Jake and the reader are thrown into a world of dramatic irony where we know the outcome of the mistakes of the past, but everyone else does not.
Jake is the only person alive who knows the exact date, time and place where the President of the United States will be assassinated. That is, unless he does something about it. But saving Kennedy is not Jake's only mission. There is a certain 5-year-old named Harry whose father will soon kill his whole family, and Jake just might be able to do something about that too.
What makes this novel so compulsively readable is the immense believability of the problems a time traveler from the present would face in the past. Once Jake travels from 2011 to 1958, the jet lag (or perhaps timelag would be more appropriate) is immense. Rather than using Google to find someone, Jake must use the phone directory and simple word of mouth to track down his target.
Similarly, when someone in the novel is in dire need of an ambulance, Jake briefly and instinctively reaches for his cell phone, an invention that is thirty years from existence. These problems ring especially true for today's culture, which some would call technologically obsessed, growing more and more uncomfortable with socializing face to face. The advantages of living in a Facebook-free world almost seem to outweigh the disadvantages of living in a place where racism runs legally rampant and getting cancer from cigarettes is a laughable notion.
While it is safe to say that King is most well known for his nightmare-inducing horror stories, such as "IT," "The Shining" and the previously mentioned "Cujo," he has also worked out of the range of horror in novels such as "The Green Mile" and "Lisey's Story." King's last novel, "Under the Dome," depicted real life terrors of small town corruption that mixed with the supernatural element of an invisible barrier blocking that very town from the outside world.
This combination of reality and unreality blend so believably to a point where the two were interchangeably horrific. This has been King's staple throughout his career: presenting us with the obvious scares of child-killing clowns and haunted hotels, set against the backdrop of perhaps more unsettling terrors such as sexual abuse and childhood trauma.
While time travel is a new theme for King, he delivers it so seamlessly that he appears to be a pro, which, admit it, he is. "11/22/63" is a book that may appear daunting with 850 pages, but to miss this epic story of the past would be missing a literary event that transcends time itself.