11/22/63 is a book I developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with. It’s another Stephen King book that reads well but much like recent read The Dead Zone there’s just something missing that prevents it being a rip roaring good story. In fact I could draw direct comparisons with The Dead Zone in what could be described as the hate side of our relationship.
Now the story is told entirely through the eyes of teacher Jake Epping, who under the influence or persuasion of a friend travels back in time to prevent the murder of the president JFK in 1963 and change life as we know it, supposedly for the better.
Now this book is loved by many, you’ve only got to look at the praise and five star reviews on Amazon for this masterpiece, unfortunately I didn’t quite see it that way and I’ll attempt to explain why.
Now the Kennedy assassination happened 10 years before I was born and in another country, obviously an extremely significant event in history, which I won't go into but my feelings on the atrocity are a touch ambivalent. I’ve seen the films, of course but as a story, well there is plenty of conspiracy theories around the assassination as there tends to be with most events as important or newsworthy and this creates some interest but is it really that intriguing.
Much like Greg Stillson the bad guy in The Dead zone, who was deemed such because he may herald a nuclear war in the future, Lee Harvey Oswald is the bad guy because it says so in the annals of history, it's pretty much a fact but reading the actual story he did what, slapped his wife about and handed out leaflets on Cuba before that decisive shot.
It might just be me but I need a reason to hope that the bad guy gets his come-uppance and what's on offer didn't really do it for me, I suppose it should on the assassination alone, I mean that's reason enough but like The Dead Zone you never really get into the mind of the perpetrator, the reason for hating them are presented in a show and tell fashion and for me it's not enough.
I like to have feelings about characters, it’s the sign of good characterization, whether it be good or bad, flawed or inappropriate, joy or tears, whatever but I need to feel something and I didn't for most of this book. In fact my feelings for the bad guy mirrored my feelings for the story's good guy, Jake Epping and this was one big stumbling block on my journey, I just didn’t feel the characters.
It's almost like writing a book about a serial killer hunt, then making your killer someone infamous like Jeffrey Dahmer and concentrating wholly on the investigation to catch him. Expecting your readers to just develop their own feelings toward him without giving him any depth or anything to inspire those feelings you normally get for the bad guy when there’s a bit to read about him, for example making him a POV character.
In its first person POV entirety, the stories premise is very much a here and now take on things, tell as it happens if you like and again that's probably the worst way to explore the depth of a character. There's no history as such to Jake Epping apart from touching on an alcoholic ex-partner and it was difficult to feel anything for him, the character on the whole I felt was incredibly flat.
I’ve also got to question the whole reason behind the venture, Al was never a close friend and Jake was born way after the JFK assassination so probably like myself wouldn’t have strong feelings about what happened and the results. He’s got a job and life certainly isn’t that bad so from his perspective how could things change drastically for the better, a little bit of a questionable premise but I can live with it.
There were however parts of the story I did enjoy, the whole deaths plan from the final destination franchise thing going on, as time itself tries to prevent Jake Epping from changing its chosen path. And I did enjoy the development of Jake and Sadie’s relationship, you could guess where it was going and the eventual outcome but it was the best part of the story. Certainly held my interest a lot more than the Oswald side of things which I was frankly bored with at times and was guilty of skipping a little.
The comparison between 11/22/63 & The Dead Zone regarding my likes and dislikes for this book were almost identical but I often criticize stories that are spun almost like watching a film, I always read with the hope that a story is going to give me something that a TV program never could and unfortunately this story didn't give me that.
To the ending, I've got to say, that was fucking overplayed to the point where I thought the ending was, well never going to end. There’s different ways to end a story and this felt like he just couldn’t let it go, tying every knot and then putting a double knot on it just so it could never come undone and absolutely everything was covered, well he certainly did that no question.
Ok so that’s how I felt about 11/22/63, not one of my favourite books by the King and chances are I won’t ever reread it but I’ll leave you with an exceptional quote and my apologies for the long review.
For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.