Stephen King is famous for his nightmare-inducing thrillers such as “The Shining” and “It,” but what some people don’t realize is that he is also incredibly talented when it comes to sci-fi and historical fiction. Case in point: “11/22/63.” The 849-page novel follows Jake Epping, an English teacher from present day who travels back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. In my opinion, it is one of the acclaimed author’s greatest works.
I’ve never been a huge fan of time travel in books and movies— such plotlines require a suspension of disbelief that I’m not always willing to give— but King manages to craft an environment that somehow makes it feel realistic. The main character doesn’t build a flux capacitor with the sole intent of saving JFK; in fact, he doesn’t build anything at all. A friend of his discovers a portal that transports the person who walks through it to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 a.m. He then asks Jake to go through it and change history. Naturally, Jake initially is skeptical and wants nothing to do with it, but circumstance causes him to change his mind. It doesn’t feel contrived, and the reader can see the logic behind every decision the characters make.
King also nailed it when it came to historical accuracy. Jake spends a majority of his time in the early sixties, travelling from Maine all the way down to Texas, and the atmosphere feels very authentic. At one point, Jake rents a house across the street from Lee Harvey Oswald, the man responsible for the Kennedy assassination, and the amount of research that went into making him feel like a genuine part of the story is obvious and appreciated.
But what really makes this book stand out is the same element that makes all of King’s work stand out: the characters. He always manages to make his characters feel real and human, which in turn makes the relationships between them more meaningful. The story in “11/22/63” revolves around Jake’s relationship with Sadie, a woman he meets in Dallas who has recently escaped an unhealthy marriage. The romance that blooms between the two of them not only provides an emotional center for the novel, but also allows for believable conflict as Jake balances his new life with his mission. I’ve never been one for love stories, but I found myself extremely invested in theirs.
All in all, “11/22/63” is a fascinating novel that keeps your attention all the way through. If you’re interested in Stephen King’s work, but don’t have the stomach for haunted hotels or demonic clowns, you should check out this book. And if you’re already a fan of his stuff, you definitely should try it. It’s got sci-fi, history, and romance, all wrapped up in a thrilling ending that leaves you wanting more.