Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 742
Right, where do I start? For the uninitiated, and those with no background in American history, the title of this novel refers to the date on which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. It was a murder that shocked the whole world, and this book explores what would happen if you could go back in time and change things.
And so, to some extent, we come to one of the few problems that I had with this book. Time travel has been overdone, especially when we’re talking about going back to avert some sort of catastrophe, and I was worried that this book would fall under the umbrella of those awful ‘let’s kill Hitler!’ books and TV shows that are riddled with cliches. Of course, King is a master at his craft, and so he managed to avoid it in the novel, but I still had a bad aftertaste throughout, purely because it felt a little like he was stooping low.
This is, after all, the man who wrote The Shining, IT, the Dark Tower series, the Green Mile, Carrie, and all sorts of other books which have entered popular culture. I also wasn’t a fan of the actual title – purely because I’m British and we don’t style our dates like that over here (it should’ve been called 22.11.63) – and I saw the ending coming about two hundred pages before it actually arrived.
Other than that, though, I can’t fault this. It really was a gripping read, as King’s work always is, and even though the book is ostensibly about someone trying to stop the Kennedy assassination, I actually had more fun along the way. In typical King style, there all sorts of side and subplots that sit alongside the actual story line, and the characters are well-written and real products of the age.
Which brings me on to another point. You see, this book actually makes you feel as though you’re really there, by evoking a sense of time and place that’s unparalleled, at least from my point of view. Don’t get me wrong – King is a master world-builder, and it’s clear throughout his work, but here it’s something else. I can’t comprehend the level of research that he must have put into it, and in the mind’s eye it’s like watching a movie. A black and white movie, more like a reel that you found in a garage than an over-the-top Hollywood blockbuster.
Damn it – now thinking about garages is reminding me where Lee Harvey Oswald kept his rifle.
Anyway, there’s a lot to be said about this book, and even though this is one of my longer reviews, there’s not enough space to say it. But it is home to a number of interesting concepts that make you think, and they help to fight off cliche and to make you see time travel in a new way. There’s a mention of the butterfly effect, of course, but what really interested me was the idea that time fights back. It’s not that the past is malevolent, as such – it’s just that it doesn’t like change, and trying to fight the past gets harder and harder the more that your actions will change the future. If you’re going to try it, be prepared for literally everything to go wrong – don’t walk under scaffolding in case it falls down on you.
I also liked the way that King was almost self-referential – I spotted a few references to his other books here and there, as well as a mention of the Takuro Spirit, created by a fictitious vehicle manufacturer that I last saw in the Dark Tower series. There was even a line that verged on self-parody, where the book’s narrator (it’s told in first person, say thankya) said that love is a uniquely portable magic. There’s a King quote that goes, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Sound familiar?
Overall then, it’s still a mind-blowing read, and while I almost wanted to dislike it before I started, by the end I was left with that whole forehead-slapping, hand-clapping, “Gosh darn it, he’s done it again!” thing going on. If you’ve read King before and you liked it, you’ll love this. If not, it’s not a bad place to start, as long as you’re confident that you can stick with a long book for a long time.