Review – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Note this isn’t an actual Off The Shelf review, and never appeared in KODT, it was just my impressions of the book from when I read it ten or so years ago (so this is also a From the Dusty Mental Archives as well)

Time Travel is a tricky business. If you follow the standard conventions, you might come across as cliche. Try something new and SF nerds may nitpick you to your grave.

11/22/63 and the movie Looper share one thing in common, and that’s that they don’t spend too much time worrying about it and get on with the story. Granted, King’s work spends more time with it, but in a hands-on kind of way rather than exposition, explaining, and theorizing.

11/22/63 is about a man who has a chance most of us dream of—to stop a major tragic event from happening. We’ve all thought about one or another in our lives. Killing Hitler, stopping 9/11 or Pearl Harbour, or maybe just saving your own parents.

The opportunity here is the JFK assassination, but one unique twist to the scenario is that the time window opens up five years before that, meaning he has to bide his time. Not that the hero has any intention of waiting until the day (though deep in our hearts we know going in it will come to that, hell the inside cover makes that clear enough) because there are other problems involved. Namely—what if Oswald didn’t act alone? He’s 95% certain he is, but given the length of time required to get to Oswald and the fact the past (the obstinate past) does its best to get in your way, he wants to be 99% certain before he kills the man.

All that said, 11/22/63 isn’t just about JFK. It’s equal parts love story. And a good one at that. I will say no more on the matter, but if you’re familiar with the general tropes of time travel romance, you’ll hear echoes of them in how this is handled.

Something else I noticed was something I might have been reading into it. Maybe it’s an over familiarity with King’s work, but there was a sense of moral dread throughout—the thought that despite our hero being on the sides of angels that somehow he’s wrong to try to assassinate an assassin. Homicide is never something to be taken lightly, and King makes sure that the superhero fantasy versions of such a time travel event are flushed thoroughly down the toilet. Right or wrong, killing changes a person.

What’s most surprising (and welcomed) is his choice to have a bit of a world overlap in his story. Fans of the novel IT will quickly realize that his first attempt at altering the past is set in a familiar time and place with a couple of characters from the book. This part of the story can be considered separate from the JFK storyline, however, in case you’re worried that Pennywise turns out to be behind the grassy knoll.

I recommend the book to any fan of time travel stories, King fans, or King fans who don’t care for horror (they exist!)

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