Stephen King's 11/22/63
11/22/63 was a very enjoyable trip back in time. Stephen King's sprawling novel examines and reinterprets the Kennedy assassination while simultaneously delivering an important message on the nature of time: be thankful for the present. Don't neglect your life in the moment you're in, because it's pretty likely that the past suffers from nostalgic selection bias and the future isn't promised.
One of the themes King returns to time and again is the idea that 1958 smells better--that the air is cleaner and the sunshine feels just a little warmer. But as the novel progresses, we see this for what it really is: wishful thinking. 1958 is filled with racist Americans. The air is clouded by cigarette smoke. People aren't any nicer or more cordial to each other than they are now, all things considered.
I was talking about the book with a buddy the other day, and I think it's pretty easy to get lost in the idea that the past was, somehow, more pure. But honestly, people ten years will fondly look back at 2012 as an age of (relative) innocence, just as they always have. When you stand perpetually at the cusp of the future, as all current living human beings do, it's pretty easy to forget that misery and heartache and triumph and joy are all achievable in all times.
And the future in this book? Let's just say that it's not a rosy picture, folks. King only spends a few pages on it, but it's not necessary to dawdle there.
The book featured many standards of King fiction that I enjoy. I liked the interactions between Jake Epping (George Amberson) and Al Templeton very much. King writes older folks well, and he writes wistful cancer patients exceedingly well. Templeton fits both bills here, approaching the monumental task of convincing Epping with humor and grace.
The central romance between George and Sadie Dunhill is classic King. Peppering the novel with vivid popular culture references grounds the narrative in time and place and gives it a voyeuristic feel. Dunhill's character vacillates between uncertainty and trust in such a realistic fashion that this is a really believable love story, given its crazy core of time travel.
It's not a perfect book. I think it could have been a few hundred pages shorter in the middle act, and that we spent an awful lot of time exploring big-city/small-town sociocultural norms (I'm sure the Jessica Caltrop dressing down was authentic to 1958, but it seemed like we hammered those ideals waaaay too frequently here). And I was a little put off by the number of really short fragments King seems to have begun using to underscore main ideas. We get it...
Also, a huge percentage of the vignettes ended with George going to sleep. I have to really edit my own work to be careful of doing just this. It reads like a "day-in-the-life" expose, and that gets tiresome.
But those are small quibbles. The narrative fluidity and flair for description are spot on, and King really pays it all off in those final pages. This is a very good novel, and it might send you down your own personal rabbit-hole when it's all said and done.
I Googled "Marina Oswald" yesterday, and I'd barely reached the "i" before her name populated the search field. King's book has people curious about this time period and event all over again, and that's a good thing.
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