A few nights ago, I finished Stephen King’s 11/22/63 at around 2:00 a.m. So, yeah, technically it was a few mornings ago. Now that I think about it, I can’t recall ever having finished a King book at a decent hour. Good for you, Mr. King. (Here’s a short blurb on the book that I put up at Goodreads.)
Anyway, one of the things I’m trying to do more of these days is to take notes on excerpts from books that impress me or move me in some way, so I figured starting with this one, I’d share them. For years, I’ve pored over passages, oohing and aahing over the prose but moving on, only to come back later and try to find them again, with disappointing results. Now, though, after I finish books, I actually go back and transcribe the words so I can refer to them any time I want. I ended up noting quite a few sections in 11/22/63, so many that it’ll be a few days before I return it to the library. It’s okay. I still have about a week left.
A bit about the book, though. As he often does, King has gone the requisite nine yards, plus a mile or so for good measure. I don’t normally do plot summaries in reviews, but since everyone pretty much knows the conceit of this one, I’ll go ahead and admit this: Going in, I was unsure of how SK was going to fill eight-hundred and some odd pages with the story of a time traveler (however adventurous, ambitious, and good at multitasking he may be) going back to try and save JFK from assassination.
Not to worry. There’s plenty happening throughout in 11/22/63, enough so that I found myself wondering, about fifty pages away from the end, how he was going to wrap it up in such limited space. He does bring it to a close, though, and in my humble opinion, this is a particularly good one. Don’t get me wrong. He had me worried there for a little bit, but then that’s what Stephen King does.
Speaking of what he does, as I say in my Goodreads blurb, when Stephen King creates a world, he owns it, and if you happen to agree to visit, it becomes a place you don’t want to leave. Whether the situation revolves around a town full of vampires, a young man with a haunted car, a gunslinger hunting a dark tower, or a humanity all but destroyed by a particularly robust form of the flu, once you’re there with him, you’re hooked. The downside of this, by the way, is that it tends to ruin you on other writers.
But how about the time travel aspect of the story? It’s not a new thing for King, but so few things are. And as with so many other successful genre writers, once he persuades you to accept that conceit–the fact, in this case, that a man can travel back to the past and attempt to change events–he allows it to serve as precisely what it is: a device. The real story is in the characters.
Here’s my favorite passage from 11/22/63, then. Dancing features prominently in this story (no, not like in West Side Story), and it’s not revealing too much to say that it provides a connection between our hero, Jake Epping, and someone he dearly loves. Some of this passage is story-specific–the men with hammers, knives, and guns and the women twisting and belittling things–but I still believe it stands on its own.
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 dreamlock 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.