Stephen King’s ‘11/22/63’ his best in a decade


Until I finished Stephen King’s newest novel, “11/22/63,” I’d only cried at the end of three of his books.

I remember tears filling my eyes during the scene in “The Stand” where Stu Redman is left behind by his team to die as they slowly make their way to Las Vegas. I was then caught off-guard by Johnny Smith in “The Dead Zone.” And King once again caught me with “The Green Mile.”

King excels at creating characters with whom you get emotionally involved. He does it again with “11/22/63,” which is about a man traveling into the past to prevent President Kennedy’s assassination.

Jake Epping is an English teacher in Maine. One night after an adult class, he’s reading a paper by one of his students, Harry Dunning, a janitor at the school. The paper deals with the night the janitor’s life changed forever — the night when his father murdered his mother, sister, two brothers and crippled him for life. That the paper moves Jake emotionally is beyond question. It prompts him to get to know Harry and find out more about that horrible night.

Later, when the owner of a hamburger diner shows Jake a way to go back in time, an idea starts to jell in the teacher’s mind. The owner of the diner has spent nearly five years of his life in the past with the intent of keeping John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. Cancer, however, brought his mission to an end. Now, he wants Jake to take over. One of the problems, however, is that the time portal only takes you back to the fall of 1958. You then have five years to spend while you wait for the right moment to act.

Jake decides to give it a shot, but first he wants to see if he can prevent Harry’s family from being killed in 1958. If he can accomplish that, then maybe he has a chance of saving Kennedy.

Here are the basic rules for time travel in “11/22/63.” You can go back to 1958 as many times as you want, but each time you do, you erase any changes that were made. When you leave 2011, go back to 1958, and then return to the present, only two minutes have passed. You, however, have aged whatever amount of time was spent in the past. Another rule is that time doesn’t want to be changed and will attempt to stop you by throwing problems in your path. Also, for every change you make, it will have a profound effect on the future with the possibility of it being more negative than it was originally meant to be.
     
After his Dunning family mission, Jake decides to tackle the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But he has to find a place to live and to wait out the time.

Leaving Maine, Jake travels to Florida where he finds trouble with some bookies after winning large bets. He heads to New Orleans for a while and then to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where he meets the woman of his dreams, Sadie Clayton. In time, the fact that Jake has no past catches up to him and he’s forced to shift focus to Lee Harvey Oswald. (All, however, is not lost between Jake and Sadie.)

Though this novel is nearly 900 pages in length, there are very few action scenes — maybe 40 to 50 pages — but you don’t notice because you’re so wrapped up in the character of Jake Epping.

Another vital thing here is the ending. That’s what hit me in the heart, but I won’t give anything away. I don’t know whether to thank King for it, or his son, Joe. King mentions in the afterword that Joe Hill suggested a better ending for the book and he decided to go with it. For me, the ending is what shot this novel from the A list to the A+ list.
 
King’s “11/22/63” is his best novel in more than a decade. This is what great writing and storytelling is all about. This is the type of book you don’t want to end, but know it must. And, when the novel finally wraps up, you feel a sense of happiness from the ending, yet also a sense of loss at having to say goodbye to the main characters. 

Wayne C. Rogers is the author of the horror novellas “The Encounter” and “The Tunnels,” both of which can be purchased at Amazon’s Kindle Store for 99 cents each.