Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stephen King's 11/22/63: Lengthy, but worth it

The size of Stephen King’s behemoth 11/22/63: A Novel put me off it at first. It might you, too. At 850 pages, I wondered if it would hold my interest for the entirety of the book. And when I hit about 60 percent (I read it on my Kindle), I almost put it down. I’m glad I didn’t. Let me tell you why.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the story, Jake Epping travels back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK. My first attraction to the book was to Jake’s time-traveling. I really like the way it happens—and the way it un-happens. (I won’t explain that further; you need to read it.) I will say that my affection for the time travel itself remained constant throughout the book.

The book is as long as it is because when Jake travels back in time, he steps into 1958, putting a gap of five years between himself and his purpose for taking the leap. King has to fill those five years with narrative, so Jake assumes an alias and begins a whole new life in the past. He reinvents himself to a certain degree—which is fun to witness—and he makes choices that both resonate with his “prior” life and rebel against it.

A whole new story, separate from and yet ultimately connected to the Kennedy storyline, develops in those five years. Jake moves around the country and meets people who become important characters both to him and to the JFK assassination. It’s during this part of the story that I almost gave up on it. King writes it well, and he made me care about the new characters being introduced, but I felt as if we were never going to get to that fateful day in November 1963. What I didn’t realize at the time was that we needed all that middle stuff to make it to the goal. (I trusted Uncle Stevie that it was necessary, or else I wouldn’t have kept reading. But I have to admit to cussing at him a few times in the process.)

I won’t give away whether or not Jake succeeds in his goal of preventing JFK’s death. After all, that’s what kept me going when I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. I wanted to know if he was going to be able to do it.

What I ended up caring about more, when it was all said and done, were those characters King introduces in the middle and Jake’s relationships with them.

It will take you a while to read, but 11/22/63 is worth the effort. King knows what he’s doing, which is why, I guess, he does what he does.