11.22.63, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (7 ratings)


Now a major TV series from JJ Abrams and Stephen King, starring James Franco (Hulu US, Fox UK and Europe, Stan Australia, SKY New Zealand).WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11.22.63, the date that Kennedy was shot - unless . . . King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 - from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake's life - a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.With extraordinary imaginative power, King weaves the social, political and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation into a devastating exercise in escalating suspense.


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Review by

What a disappointment! This novel seemed to offer so much but it subsided into turgidity, and towards the end it became almost a burden to have to continue reading it.The basic premise is that in 2011 middle-aged teacher Jake Epping is introduced to a time portal that can transport those who dare to cross through it back to September 1958. Once there, life seems to continue in real time, but however long one has spent in the past, when one returns to 2011 only two minutes have gone by. With each new return to the past, any changes that one caused the last time are reset.Epping is shown the portal by Al Templeton who owns a retro diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine. Once he has convinced Jake of the existence and simplicity of using the portal, he explains how he had gone back and spent almost four years in the past, basically trying to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. He would have stayed there right through to November 1963 but unfortunately he had been ill before going through the portal, and while he had been literally “living in the past” the course of his illness had accelerated. Naturally, as he was in the world of the early 1960s the capacity for medical science to treat him had been far lower, and he had had to return to the present day. Epping is finally convinced to go back, knowing that he can return at any time and fuind that just two minutes had gone by.King handles the differences in everyday life from fifty years earlier very deftly – after all, he has always been adept at portraying the normal aspects of life with superb clarity and credibility. It seemed as if it was going to be a great novel.However, as so often with King, he just tries too much. The novel is far longer than it needed to be, and after a stunning start is seemed to become bogged down. Having enjoyed the first half I found it very difficult to summon the energy to carry on with it, and the feeling of relief when I finally completed it was almost palpable. Of course, travelling back in time more than fifty years isn’t that beguiling a thought for me – if I want that sensation I just have to drive seventy miles up the motorway to Northampton!

Review by

It's a matter of public record that Stephen King used to be a much better writer than he is today. He started to come apart in the 1990s, and his flagging talent exploded when he was hit by a car in 1999. I lamented this many times while reading his Dark Tower series, which started out so well in the 1980s and ended so, so badly in 2004. But is it not possible that he could return to form? I've heard distant whispers of good things about Full Dark, No Stars, The Wind Through The Keyhole and 11.22.63 - the latter even being named one of the New York Times' best 10 novels of 2011. I chose 11.22.63, for the same reason I read any King novel - it had an intriguing premise. King may be pegged as a horror writer, but I've never once been scared by anything he's written. I read him because he's a decent storyteller who comes up with some interesting ideas, which I suppose, on a theoretical level, are scary (i.e. The Stand or Firestarter).11.22.63, which keen students of history will notice is the date of JFK's assassination, is the tale of recently divorced high school English teacher Jake Epping, whose buddy Al owns a diner in the small Maine town of Lisbon Falls. Late one night, Al calls Jake over to the diner unexpectedly, and Jake is astonished to see that he appears to have aged by a matter of years, apparently overnight. Al lets Jake in on a secret. In the storeroom of his diner there's a secret portal. On one side you're standing among brooms and mops and stacks of cans in 2011; on the other side, you're standing in bright sunlight next to a textile mill, on September 9, 1958.The time portal is not explained, of course, nor should it be. Al is almost as clueless as Jake, though he has discovered a few rules. No matter how long you spend in the past, whether it's a few minutes or a few years, you will always return two minutes after you left. Anything you do can and will change the future, as Al discovered by carving his initials into a tree - but every time you go back, it's a reset, and anything you accomplished on previous trips has been erased.Having mostly used the portal for short excursions to purchase beef at 1958 prices, Al has recently come back from a much longer trip, and only because he was dying of cancer. Coughing blood into maxipads, he explains to Jake that he had been trying to change the future for the better - specifically, trying to stop JFK's assassination. This, Al conjectures, could then stop the Vietnam War, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the race riots of the '60s and '70s, and just generally make the world a better place. (A dubious proposition, but never mind - it doesn't matter that we believe it, only that Jake and Al do.) He failed in his mission because JFK won't be assassinated until 1963, and as the date approached, Al began to die of cancer. He has returned to the future to entrust the mission to Jake.Naturally, Jake accepts, but makes a test run first. One of his adult night-class students is a crippled, brain damaged janitor who suffered his injuries on Halloween, 1958, when his father mudered his family with a hammer. Jake goes back through the portal with the intention of sticking around for two months and stopping those murders from happening.This segment, which takes up the first 200 pages of the book, is tight. It's a dress rehearsal for both Jake and the reader, setting up a kind of tension which couldn't exist in any other kind of story - time goes by slowly, but everything boils down to a single moment, and being armed with some foreknowledge doesn't make Jake invincible or infallible. The past, in fact, tries to present itself from being changed, with all kinds of minor mishaps and coincidences blocking Jake from his course of action - reminiscent of Final Destination, and a reminder that Jake and Al are screwing with forces beyond their comprehension.I won't spoil how the mission to save the janitor's family goes, but suffice to say that Jake soon travels into the past for a much longer stay and a much larger mission. JFK was assassinated in 1963; the portal sends Jake to 1958. So he has some time to kill, which he intends to spend closely tracking and observing Lee Harvey Oswald to make sure the conspiracy theories were wrong - the last thing he wants is to murder an innocent man and have JFK get capped from the Grassy Knoll anyway. So 11.22.63 is a double mystery, about whether or not Oswald was truly JFK's assassin, and whether or not Jake will be able to stop him as time rolls excruciantingly slowly towards the fateful date. (It's not exactly a one-chance shot, since Jake could always return to 2011 and then return to a reset 1958 and try again, but five years is an awfully long time.)It's in this middle section that the novel sags, and you can see the King-ian cogs and wheels grinding away in their tedious fashion. Jake doesn't much like Dallas, so he spends the late 50s and early 60s living in the Texan town of Jodie - a perfect white-picket 1950s small town populated with decent, friendly American folk, where Jake takes a job at the local high school and falls in love with Sadie, the school librarian. 11.22.63 was clearly written in part so that King could indulge in some reminiscing about the good old days of Studebakers and lindy hops and high school football, but the Jodie chapters are the ones where the story is pretty much stripped away, leaving us with nothing but an exercise in nostalgia - which I found tedious, given that I was born in 1988 and King is not particularly adept at capturing another era anyway. (Not bad, but not great either).This was part of what made 11.22.63 a novel that is, like many of King's larger works, desperately in need of an editor. It's a fairly major edit to suggest, since Jodie comprises the majority of the book and Sadie ends up being crucial to the ending, but surely small-town loveliness has no place (even as juxtaposition) when coming from a horror writer in a novel about murdering a sociopath to change the future? Surely it would have been better for Jake to live alone, depressed and maybe alcoholic, in a shitty apartment in the 1960s, a pair of headphones over his ears every night, listening to endless recordings from the Oswald family next door, plotting to kill a man who might be innocent? Better for the tone of the novel, certainly, and also conveniently slicing about 300 pages out of it.Anyway, I stuck through the novel's doldrums because I wanted to see how it would end up, and as November 1963 approaches, King fortunately picks up the pace again. The final third of the book is gripping stuff, as strong as the first third. As usual, though, King manages to pull it out of the fire and fuck it up at the last minute. The time portal, which so patently didn't need to be explained, is expanded upon, and the consequences of Jake's actions are partly taken out of his hands, becoming less logical and more... universal, for want of a better word.One of the things that irritated me about the end of the Dark Tower series was King's obsession with fate or destiny or cosmology or whatever you want to call it. By the time the last two books rolled around it almost had me tearing my hair out. It's not as bad as it was then - maybe the further he gets from his car crash, the more he manages to shake it - but there is a strain of it, as Jake runs into connected characters and similar situations, referring to them with what becomes an irritating repeated mantra: "the past harmonises." (Running a close second is the cheesy "dancing is life.") As I said, it's not as bad as it has been in his other books, but King still demonstrates a bothersome interest in removing his characters from logical sequences of cause-and-effect (fairly vital in a time travel novel) and have them skirt alongside the Dark Tower zone, where the characters have no free will and what they do doesn't actually matter - everything comes down to fate and destiny and mystical forces beyond our control. Boring.11.22.63 is an ambitious but flawed and bloated novel, and I knew as I was reading it that my final judgement would rest on how well it ended. On that count, unfortunately, it stumbles. Since it stumbles so often even before it gets to the ending, I can't quite recommend it unless you're a King fan or find the premise really interesting. It certainly has good moments and gripping passages, some lasting for hundreds of pages, but it's still the kind of book that I wish I could take a crack at editing, because it's frustratingly capable of being much better. King can still come up with fantastic ideas, but he's not the storyteller he used to be.

Review by

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERSI love novels about time travel and alternate history and the assassination of JFK is fertile ground for such concepts. This is well written but it is far too long. There was too much detail for me about high school and small town life and this I felt extended the novel unnecessarily. The alternate 2011 that ensued after Jake saved JFK's life didn't seem logical to me as a consequence of that action (and why should there be more earthquakes?). The bittersweet ending was well done, though. 3.5/5

Review by

Stevie, Stevie. The spark has gone. It's not me, it's you. I loved reading your novels when I was about twelve, but the old ones haven't aged well, and your new material is basically recycled self-promotion. So, we've come to a parting of the ways. I gave this one a try because of the subject, only to discover that you have turned into a modern day Charles Dickens, paid by the word, before having to suffer through 600 pages of padding around an overblown sci-fi novella before JFK was even mentioned.Your 'hero', far from modest, is a hulking great Gary Stu, like most of your teacher/writer narrators, but more than that, Jake/George is also deadly dull. He's a mockery of a tough guy, out to save the world by changing history, who can swear like a trooper (sadly, for an English teacher) but sounds more like a middle-aged teacher trying to talk like his students. He gets the girl - and shows her how to <i>lurve</i> - saves the school play, infiltrates the mob and stops the bad guy, but after about two hundred pages, I was secretly hoping that Oswald would turn round and shoot your narrator instead. The love interest is not much better - in fact, Sadie is a dreadful cliche, a virgin librarian who keeps falling over her own feet and actually needs rescuing by the hero. I know she is meant to be a product of her era, but you could have given her some redeeming quality to <i>show</i> how brave and endearing she's meant to be, instead of leaving Jake/George to bore the reader to death by reminding them every other sentence.Speaking of the 60s, I'm already familiar with your hazy, rose-tinted brand of nostalgia, Mr King, but your 'Land of Ago' manages to be both patronising and pathetically dull. 'Food tasted good; milk was delivered directly to your door', you write, people didn't lock their doors, talked to their neighbours, and buying guns was so much easier, gosh-darnit! Basically, this is the small town life that you portray in most of your novels, including <i>IT</i> - rehashed for my reading pleasure in the early chapters of this novel - where women are victims of domestic abuse and children are either bullied or traumatised by living nightmares. Or both. I wouldn't mind travelling back in time to 1960s London, but you can keep late 1950s America, thanks.Though I'm sure your motives were pure, Mr King - and you write in your afterword that you first thought of writing this novel back in 1972 - what you have actually created with <i>11.22.63</i> is a self-parody. The concept is neat enough - if you could change the past, would you? Should you? - but the result is a romance novel wrapped around a kernel of sci-fi, then padded out with repetitive subplots and narrative devices (amnesia? Really?). Even the theme of the book is kindly signposted <i>ad nauseum</i> - 'time turns on a dime/is obdurate/harmonises', etc. I did reach the end, finally, and was even disappointed there - why not just throw in the little bald docs from <i>Insomnia</i> and complete a hat trick of self-references?Maybe I was expecting too much, but the title of your novel turned out to be a hollow promise. I'm sure you did your research into the assassination and Oswald, yet you skimped on making the past - and most especially JFK - seem real. That accent cod New England accent was embarrassing, even in print! And when one of the background characters actually said, 'I don't care if it's the President of the United States calling' ('Uh, sirs ...'), I cringed. Not that you'll notice - certainly not if you <i>are</i>being paid by the ounce - but from here on out, I think I'll leave you to your Norman Rockwell yesteryear and bad sci-fi vision of the future, Mr King.

Review by

If you can suspend your belief about time travel then you will enjoy this offering from Stephen King, 11.22.63.Essentially it's about Jake, an American teacher in 2011 who discovers he can travel back in time to 1958 and after some careful consideration, sets out to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963.11.22.63 is part historical fiction and part science fiction in a unique combination of genres that only Stephen King can successfully achieve.I have to admit that 11.22.63 is the most enjoyable novel set in the late '50s and early '60s I've ever read and the meticulous research King undertook in order to write this novel makes for a convincing and realistic atmosphere.Jake's observations of the time period and the differences are very amusing and educational at the same time. The consequences of time travel and changing the future are addressed through the characters and the ending was extremely satisfying although perhaps not the 'happily ever after' some readers might be seeking.A thought provoking novel and highly entertaining, King fans will love 11.22.63 and those who don't enjoy his supernatural and paranormal themes, should definitely pick this one up. An interest in the assassination of JFK will add to your enjoyment.

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