It is no secret that I love Stephen King. His books ushered me from my youth into adolescence, starting with my first experience,"The Stand" in 8th grade. With a few exceptions (The Cell? Really Uncle Stevie?) I've read everything he has written. I love the maleness of his prose, I love his bizarre sense of humor, his 100 to 200-page tangents, his ability to scare the shit out of me.
Reading his newest book was a foregone conclusion. I was curious that this novel did not delve into the darkest recesses of the horror genre as expected, but instead addresses time travel. Time travel is good fun.
I expected a little blood. I know King can't resist. I expected side trips, because it is physically impossible for King to stay focused on one subject. He is a little ADHD that way. What I didn't expect was to experience stirrings in my heart, and to emotionally fall for this book as one would helplessly fall for a first love.
Synopsis: Jake Epping is a 35 year-old divorced school teacher who plods through his life, getting most of his pleasure from the students he mentors. Recently, one of his GED students, Harry Dunning, a middle-aged janitor with physical impairments, wrote an essay about how his father killed his mother and siblings with a hammer when he was just a boy. Devastating stuff.
Soon after, one of Jake's buddies Al, who owns the local greasy spoon, confides in him that he is dying of cancer and would like to pass on a legacy...a rabbit hole in his pantry that leads back to 1958. Passing through the portal, even if one stays for years, will result in the passing of only two minutes in the present. Al suggests the possibility of making the biggest possible contribution to humanity by preventing the assassination of JFK. Al has done the legwork, documenting everything there is to know about Lee Harvey Oswald, Jake just needs to see it through. Al offers one word of warning however. The bigger the change you try to make in the past, the more the past bites back. The past is obdurate. It does not want to be changed.
So Jake takes the challenge with trepidation. Before he saves JFK, though, he decides to save Harry Dunning's family as well. Then he meets the love of his life, Sadie. In the back of Jake's mind, he worries about the consequences of his presence in the past, and the butterfly effect that might have a devastating impact on life as we know it.
My thoughts: Well, I'm sorry but that synopsis really doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of this all-consuming book. At over 850 pages and 30 audio discs, there is ample room for King to do his thang, and do it he does.
And sure, the title of the book would indicate that it's all about stalking and stopping Lee Harvey Oswald and presumably making the world a better place. For all of you conspiracy theorists and students of this historical watershed moment, you'll get your fix. King has thrown his back into the research that provides us a peek into the sneering punk that took the 35th President's life. His obsession with all things Communist, his wife-beating tendencies, his failed attempt on the life of a right-wing political leader.
But in my mind, it is about so much more. Why would we ever really want 850 pages of Oswald anyway? Instead, King reaches deep and comes up with all the entertaining, mind-bending time travel paradoxes and consequences. He presents the nostalgia of the late 1950's and early 1960's...the music, the cars, the root beer. He takes it to a personal level, making us fall in love with the people Jake touches throughout his adventure and whose lives are changed. And it is about love.
I'm going to digress for a moment. One of my favorite movies ever is "Somewhere in Time"...it is cheesy sure, but one of the most romantic films I've ever encountered. And there is a moment towards the end that even the hardest heart will give itself up to the idea of destiny, and true love reaching across time and space. *sigh* That is what we get here, at the end of 11/22/63. And it leveled me. In the best way.
King also never fails to provide geek moments where he casually mentions characters from other books, some obvious, some not. It's like running into a childhood classmate at the grocery store. A little treat for his loyal readers.
It is a serious thing to find a book that you would put on your top ten list ever. In the three plus years I've been blogging, I think I may have only added one or two (The Time Traveler's Wife is the only one that comes to mind), the others accumulated over a lifetime of reading. Let the record show that this one is officially being added today. I will never forget it.
A few words about the audio production: I never have any worries when I am preparing to listen to an Uncle Stevie audio. He is a total audio junkie, and I know without a doubt that he would have something to say about who narrates his books. The narrator in this case, Craig Wasson, as expected, was PHENOMENAL. It doesn't appear I have ever heard him before, but as I look over his resume, I found myself nodding at the fact that he narrated James Elroy's "Blood's a Rover", an audio I uploaded ages ago because Uncle Stevie said it was the best narration he'd ever heard. It all makes sense.
5 out of 5 stars