- Title: 11.22.63
- Author: Stephen King
- Published: 2011
11.22.63 is about Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher, who discovers a wormhole in his friend’s diner. The wormhole transports him to 1958, where Epping begins to adjust to 1950s life, as well as plot to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which happened on the 22nd of November, 1963.
It’s hard to summarise the genre of this novel. I think it’s an interesting combination of science fiction, historical fiction, political dystopia and alternate history. Although I don’t profess to be a science-fiction fan, I really enjoyed the science-fiction elements of this book, because they were not too abstract for the common reader to understand – they felt normal and believable, which I think is rare in books that tend to focus on time, space, aliens and everything in-between.
I also liked the historical and political themes; I studied American presidents as part of my A Level History course, and 11.22.63 provided a decent recap of this. It was also interesting to consider the repercussions of each and every seemingly small action had in the “grand scheme of things”.
Furthermore, despite 11.22.63 being set in a world a further 50 years in the past, the questions it raises are still just as significant today:
- If you could change a terrible event in the past, not knowing the future consequences, would you? What if this triggers an equally horrific event later in time?
- Is it better to learn from the past, rather than try and undo it?*
This reminds me of the famous quote by the philosopher Santayana: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. (Reason in Common Sense, 1905), p. 284
I also liked the length of the novel. It’s a big read, and took me a sizeable amount of time to get through, but I was kept captivated throughout and I was glad I had so long to enjoy the book for.
However, I thought there was an unusually high amount of explicit violence in the book – punches, stabbings, broken noses, and gun fights. I’ve read some of King’s horrors that do have high levels of bloody violence in, so on the one hand, this isn’t an unexpected feature in King’s writing. On the other hand, I naively thought those sorts of scenes would be unnecessary and therefore omitted from a non-horror book.
For me, the best part of 11.22.63 was the intertextual references to another of King’s books, IT, which is also set in 1958’s America, and the last King book I read, so I feel like I’m reading his books in some kind of weird order. I completely forgot that IT was set in this timeline, and to be drip-fed clues and references to another plot was really entertaining, although this isn’t a huge feature within the narrative of 11.22.63.
I also found the ending incredibly powerful; it’s rare for me to be strongly moved by a book’s ending (especially as most of them seem to end on cliff-hangers nowadays…) but I felt so sad for Epping, and the Dystopian America portrayed. I won’t spoil the ending for any who may wish to read it, but I was certainly affected by it.
I strongly recommend this book.
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