09 Jan 11/22/63
By: Stephen King
According to Stephen King, the idea for writing this novel, which tells the story of a time traveler who goes back in time to stop the assassination of Kennedy, first occurred to him in 1971, a full forty years before its actual publication date. Reading this story, you can tell that this is a story that King had wanted to tell for a long time. Stephen’s Kings literary talent is on full display in this novel as he explores themes like the importance of belonging in a community, the human need for companionship, and the fragility of history against the backdrop of late 1950’s and early 1960’s America. This is the age of big V8 American cars and rock and roll, but also Jim Crow and George Wallace, and King expertly uses his research to make the reader feel like they are there alongside the main character, exploring an America that is both familiar and completely alien.
The story starts in the present day, and follows Jake Epping, a divorced English teacher. He’s soon told by his friend Al, the owner of Al’s Diner and its famously cheap Fatburger, that there’s a portal to 1958 America in the pantry. You can go back and change history, but there’s a catch. Once you go back a second time, everything you did before resets. Inspired by Al to use this golden opportunity to save President Kennedy and prevent many of the great tragedies of the 20th century, he decides to go back in time and do his best change the course of history.
Jake’s journey takes him to numerous places before the day in which the novel is named for. He visits Derry, Maine to save one of his English students in the past (if you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ll instantly recognize this place as the setting for his horror novel “It”), travels to Florida, and then spends many of the years prior to the Kennedy assassination in the small town of Jodie near Dallas, Texas. It’s here he meets a local school librarian, Sadie Dunhill, and he becomes a member of the local community.
It’s during these points that the reader sees that while this book is about a time traveler trying to save John Kennedy and change history, it’s also a book about a person’s desire to find a place where they belong. Jodie, Texas becomes a home to Jake in a way the present never was, and even though he doesn’t belong there, he desperately wants to. He increasingly struggles with leading a double life, one in which he’s a high school teacher in Jodie, and another, where he’s living an apartment below Lee Harvey Oswald, and desperately trying to learn if he did, in fact, act alone or if there was an actual conspiracy.
One of the reasons this novel works so well, and is so compelling, is because it’s a story about the small personal things we all face as well as large world events. We see Jake struggle with loneliness, as well as try to find out where he truly belongs. And in the backdrop, we also experience an excellent historical thriller about time travel and questions like “What would have been different if Kennedy had lived”?
An excellent novel in nearly every regard, it is a great novel to read if you’re a fan of King’s writing (like me), or if you’re a newcomer as well.
Review By: Justin Davis