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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

11/22/63 (Stephen King)

I recently finished Stephen King's new novel "11/22/63". While it probably doesn't qualify as one of the "great books" of Western literature, it was a very enjoyable and well written novel. The first few chapters setup the gist of the story pretty well. I actually skipped to the end and read the last few chapters to see how it turned out. The ending wasn't very surprising, but it did spark my curiosity as to how King got from beginning to end. It was compelling enough to get me to go back and read the middle. While there were a few points at which I felt as if the plot dragged, it seemed somehow appropriate to the situation of a man caught in a waiting game with the past.

Ultimately, this novel is about human relationships (friendship, family, marriage, love, hate, abuse, the human capacity for caring and kindness) and sacrifice. The characters are very deep and well written; the dialogue is great. Many of the situations the characters found themselves in were well constructed, believable, and hit home for me as a reader. Ultimately, I think it's worth the read. In the rest of this post, I'm going to write about specifics of the book. If you don't want to know what happens in the book, stop reading now.

One piece of the novel that felt contrived (and unnecessary) to me was toward the end when Jake/George gets attacked by the bookie and is laid up in the hospital for the months leading up to the assassination of Kennedy with amnesia, causing him to have difficulty remembering the specifics of his mission, forcing him to enlist Sadie and Deke into his mission to help him, and dragging the story out. I understand that this is meant to be further evidence of the "obdurate past" trying to prevent history from being changed, and as mentioned above, this provides some extra urgency and suspense leading up to the final moments of the assassination attempt. It also sets up the death of Sadie, which gives Jake/George further motive to reset the past (although his brief glimpse of the future he created should have been enough to do that, Sadie dead or alive).

But imagine for a moment that whole section of the book had been done away with. Imagine instead that Clayton's attack of Sadie happened in the summer of '63, and Jake spent the months leading up to the assassination attempt caring for Sadie instead of having amnesia. Then on the day of the assassination, he leaves Sadie behind and goes through all the same trials and tribulations with the same outcome on the 6th floor of the book depository, except that Sadie isn't killed. Then, after the FBI releases him, he picks up Sadie and takes her back to the future with him. They see how bad things are, and then go back to 1958 together to reset things, and then go back again into the future together to live out their lives. Tied up a little too neatly? What if Sadie, for some reason that could be invented by the Green Card Man, couldn't go through the time portal, and Jake/George had to leave her behind, and then the ending stays in tact as well... All of this is merely a long-winded way of saying that I don't think all the stuff with Jake/George getting beat up by the bookie and everything that follows that sub-plot was really necessary. I think the book would be just as good (maybe better) without it. And it would certainly be a good 75ish pages lighter.

On the whole however, I did enjoy the book, and while this wasn't really a sci-fi novel (I think it was a book about human relationships that happened to involve time travel), I did enjoy watching King try to set and adjust the boundaries of his fictional world in which time travel was possible. I also appreciate that he didn't go to great lengths to try to explain every detail of how or why it worked. A little mystery is a good thing. The idea of the "harmonies" of the past was a clever foil, and he avoided over-use of that little tool, which had the potential to become annoying. Setting up the idea of the "obdurate past" was clever as well, because it really shifts the story from George vs. Oswald to George vs. History. And we get a sense of how formidable an opponent history can be.

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