Review: 11-22-63 by Stephen King (2011 novel)

A hole in time in the storage room of a Maine diner allows passage to a specific instant in 1958, and after a couple of experimental trips, the protagonist embarks on a longer excursion to prevent several tragedies, including the assassination of President Kennedy.

I bought this at my favorite local bookstore and carried it into a restaurant I like two doors down, where a waiter asked whether I’d started reading it yet and if so what I thought of it so far. I told him I hadn’t planned to read it; I’d only picked it up because I’d seen some dangerous-looking characters in the vicinity and needed something heavy to use as a weapon. But in fact I did start it over dinner, and less than a week later I mentioned to a friend that I’d almost finished it, having only about 350 pages to go.

In short, this book isn’t.

But it never feels long, and bravo to Stephen King for that. It takes a good story-teller to turn out an almost-850-page novel that never drags. I’ve read 200-page books that seemed way longer than this.

Since the hero can only travel to that one instant in 1958 and needs to stay until 1963 to be sure of accomplishing his main purpose, he has a lot of time to do other things while he’s waiting, holding down jobs, including a small-town English-teaching position in Texas, and meeting a number of interesting people. One of them is a young high school librarian who comes to mean a great deal to him, though he’s afraid to tell her where he’s from and what he’s really up to, and he isn’t sure what he’ll do when it’s time for him to head back to the future.

Even those of us old enough to remember the world circa 1960 might not recall some of the interesting details King brings out, such as (to take just one example) how much more primitive hospitals were back then.

The book does have some flaws, including too much foreshadowing of the had-I-but-known variety, but on the whole it’s quite good. If you associate the name Stephen King only with horror, note that there’s very little in the way of horror here, though there is some serious violence.

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