When I heard that Stephen King was coming out with a book called 11/22/63, my heart jumped for joy. In case you aren’t aware, I am fascinated with the Kennedys, but the uncertainty over the assassination is what most piques my interest.
When I read the premise, I was even more excited. You know who was tasked with preventing Kennedy from dying? An English teacher! In case you aren’t aware, I used to be an English teacher.
On Christmas morning I unwrapped this massive 850-pager, much to my delight, and started reading it somewhere around January 2nd. I just finished it last week. Slow reader, yes, but there was also about a month and a half when I barely read at all because my employment situation kind of exploded.
Just to warn you, this post is about to get really weird. Why? Because you’re about to watch a video of a dinosockosaurus (aka Frank) review this book for you. Oh yes.
You’ll forgive him if he seems a bit scatterbrained. This is his first time on camera. Allow me to answer a few questions for you ahead of time:
1. Yes, I made Frankasockosaurus.
2. No, I’m not sure what exactly his accent is or why it changes so often.
2a. No, we don’t hate Canadians. Duh! One of our favorite readers lives in Canada! Frank just meant that maybe he’ll have a Canadian accent in his next video (and let’s be honest, it will be totally botched anyway).
So without further ado, I give you…. Frank’s review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King.
In addition to what I, ahem, Frank said in the video, I want to add a few points here.
Basic premise: English teacher Jake Epping is asked by a dying diner-owner to take a walk down the wormhole in the back of his stockroom. Jake travels back in time to 1958, assumes the identity of George Amberson, and has to build a life for himself in the past until he can save JFK from being assassinated. Along the way, he falls in love with Sadie Dunhill, who is technically about 40 years older than he is, though when they meet in the past, he is older than she is. But can he save Kennedy? Can he bring Sadie back to the future? Dun-dun-dun.
Overall, I liked this book. I didn’t feel like I was reading it just to get through it, but in many cases, I felt really let down. For example, pretty early on, the idea of this thing called a Jimla is introduced. For about 700 pages, there’s this huge air of mystery and suspense. The Jimla is presented as this thing to be feared.
When I found out what the Jimla was (actually, I didn’t even really find out. It was hurriedly and indirectly defined — literally with shrugged shoulders — at the end), I wanted to get in my car, drive to Maine, and smack Stephen King with this 850 page book. I’m not kidding: on at least two occasions, I had nightmares about all of the things my imagination thought the Jimla might be. I developed an unnatural suspicion toward my cousin, whose nickname is Jimler, for a while. What an enormous let-down at the end of the book. I expected more out of that storyline.
I was fine with all of the characters except for the main character, Jake/George. I found him to be somehow inauthentic, like in some cases his voice was forced. In the Afterword, which, by the way, I loved, King says that he started writing this book in the 70s, but it was all still so fresh that he had to wait. I’m wondering if parts of the manuscript were from then with modern-day references kind of plopped in there, because sometimes that’s what it felt like. But only with the main character. It got a lot better as the book went on, but it made it really difficult for me to believe this character at the beginning, and that kind of stuck with me throughout.
Then again, perhaps we’re not supposed to trust him. But what lacked authenticity for me didn’t seem related to whether he was or was not trustworthy as far as the plot goes.
And, okay, I rolled my eyes at character names like “Mike Coslaw” and “Bobbi Jill Allnut” — both of whose last names looked like King glanced around his kitchen and ever-so-slightly altered coleslaw and walnuts to make last names. It pleased me to see him at least address the coleslaw later in the book.
I almost stopped reading entirely when Sadie turns to George and asks point-blank , “Are you from the future?” I slammed the book shut, yelling out, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” loudly enough to wake the dogs. By that point I was already invested, so I kept reading.
All in all, I was neither satisfied nor totally dissatisfied. It was a decent read, but it didn’t meet my expectations. It just made me wonder how many people babble on about SK being so great merely because the masses make them feel like they should. The guy churns out books like nobody’s business, and while I’m sure some of them are quite good (I share Frank’s terror when it comes to clowns, especially after reading IT), art for art’s sake does not art make. I remain a skeptic.
The Afterword, however, I found to be fascinating (and quite well written in a totally authentic voice). It was all about his research of the Kennedys and Dallas and so on. He mentions the books that he recommends, which is gold for someone like me.
My rating: 3/5 stars. But, as LeVar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it. (I worshiped Reading Rainbow as a kid.) If you’ve read this book, what were your thoughts? Do you think Stephen King is overrated, underrated, perfectly rated? Did you love or hate Frank’s vlogging debut? I need to knooowwww!
Bonus! If you loved Frank’s video, check out this “screenshot” clip of him jamming out.
This is EXACTLY what I sound like. :P
I just LOL’d. :-D
A friend of mine told me (in what has been perhaps the best assessment of this one), “Your accent sounds like if Bjork did an impression of The Count.” I love it. Just mixing it up a bit!
I just finished this tome. My birthday is 11/22 – I was 17 the day Kennedy was assassinated. Most of the way through this novel comes across as if it were a straight history of shadowing Lee Harvey Osward but Stephen King gets back to science fiction in the end.
I feel SK is a little overrated nowadays as well. Years ago I devoured Christine, The Shining, Salem’s Lot and was thoroughly satisfied and kept in suspense the whole way. Having read Under the Dome and having it’s resolution to the mystery be “It’s Aliens!’ and this waffle of an ending, “I changed the past but I can’t change the past, what was is supposed to be…” Well duh Jackass, everyone already knows that… We bought your book to be entertained by the speculation or imagination of what could be not see you go there and then take it back….
I would have been much more satisfied with Under the Dome if there had been some other explanation…
Like with that movie “The Adjustment Bureau”… “It’s God!” when the whole way you’re trying to think of which nefarious government agency would be trying to direct a person’s life as they want it (i.e Manchurian Candidate).
I despise these copout endings. And it’s sad that a man that delivered the most terrifying ending I have ever read in the shining is now using “It’s aliens” and “you can’t change the past”.
Thanks for commenting, Alan! I agree — those copout endings are the worst. SK’s older stuff was definitely great — when I was in junior high I read some and was truly creeped out. Now I fall asleep during his movies and find so many issues with his plots (and endings). I’ve heard Dr. Sleep is more like old-school King but I haven’t read it yet. I’ve also heard his short stories (like Nightmares & Dreamscapes, which I’ve also not yet read) are better than his novels these days.
I kind of just can’t get over the assumption that he’s churning out novels at such a high rate of speed that he’s really losing something in them at the same time.
I just finished reading the novel. I hadn’t opened a SK in years, although I had read almost all of them in my early 20s. This one was just waiting for me on the pile of “books to read some day” and on Friday evening I picked that one. After a few pages, I couldn’t do anything but read.
Before going further I’d like to say that I read the novel in French. As I’m going to talk about some of King’s “neologisms” but they might not be the exact word when I do, I apologize in advance. But I’m sure you’ll know what I am talking about.
I agree with the whole Jimla thing. I was expecting it to be some cosmic entity that doesn’t like the past to be changed.
One enormous thing King missed (or did not want to talk about) is about the whole “harmonics” thing. Sadie/Doris, Al Templeton/Al from Jodie… This whole thing looks very much like SK’s style, if two things have the same name it’s never a coincidence, like in the Dark Tower series. But how the hell did he miss the absolutely HUGE harmonic that exists between JFK’s assassination and Abraham Lincoln’s ? Maybe George/Jake doesn’t know (he says a couple times that he studied English literature and not History, but that one is huge). Big disappointment for me.
But the worst is this : why the fuck (excuse my French, but I am French) are there time portals if no one can use them ? It’s so idiotic. I’m sure the King has been struggling to give a better explanation and gave up knowing that no explanation at all is better than a bad one. The very little “portal is a bubble” thing is shitty enough.
All in all, i really enjoyed that reading. A good story is one you like or you hate. A bad one is one that you forget. And I will certainly not forget that one. It took me through too many emotions to let me forget about it. I must admit Sadie was resonating with some aspects/people of my own life and I probably let her in a bit too deep. I felt sad and even almost cried when she pushed our hero away because of his broomstick, and when she died I had real tears although I knew Jake would try to start again and meet her again. King is one of those authors that can make me cry, although I’m not a crying man ;)
I can’t agree with the JIMLA thing – it was mentioned infrequently as a harmonization issue, almost like deja vu, with Jake presented as the cause of it. So that made sense to me and it resolved exactly as i thought it would. Overall, pretty good book, though the worst case scenarios of a changed future seemed a bit much (i dont mean the time related changes, just the “JFK would be really bad because”). The central character was great and i appreciated he was a normal guy making, quite often, poor decisions. That’s part of the fun.
I’m a late to the party, but I suppose that’s appropriate for a book about time travel.
I used to read pretty much anything with Stephen King’s name on it. I owned nearly every book he wrote up until “Desperation/The Regulators”. I read maybe a third(?) or less, through that one. I don’t remember which version I read exactly (King or Bachman) because I had them both. I didn’t make it far into that novel thought because I had grown extremely tired at that point of his fondness for mutilating animals and killing off children in various horrifying ways. I was not surprised by either of these occurrences, just…. not immune to them any more. The end result is that Mr. King and I parted ways somewhere around…. 1996ish.
Fast forward to late 2016 when I found that Stephen King released a novel in 2011 that had to do with time travel and the Kennedy assassination. I figured those were relatively safe subject matters and decided to reserve the audio book from my local library. I have been listening to it on my commute to and from work for a few weeks now. I was disappointed to discover that Mr. King still seems to have the perverse desire to kill off children in horrifying ways in his novels. I guess I should have expected it. I suppose I did. But I was disappointed all the same.
I haven’t finished 11.22.63 yet, or discovered what the Jimla thingy is going to be. I don’t really care because it seems to be a minor part of the book. As I was starting to listen to it, I found another review of it……somewhere, I don’t remember where. That reviewer said that he thought the book wasn’t like the typical Stephen King book because, in his opinion, there wasn’t the usual blood and gore of an SK book. Amazed, I wondered if that guy had read any of SK’s books at all. As I already have mentioned, I have found in this novel, much to my disappointment, the usual SK penchant for child/animal/human-killing plot of most of his stories and novels. What has been different though is the slight sci-fi (time travel) aspect of this story. An interesting twist, even if a bit of an minor player. Maybe it will get better, but I’m not hopeful. This is Stephen King after all.
I have to agree with your assessment of the Jake/George character. I found him to be not at all what I would have expected from a man who was supposed to be 35-ish in 2011. The character has made several references to things that I don’t believe any person of that age and time period would have known about. Randolph Scott for one thing. Hell, I’m in my mid 50’s and even though I sort of know he was an actor, I certainly can’t conjure up an image of Randolph Scott. But, discovering that SK started the novel in the 70’s…. well, that makes more sense. I think someone who was in their 30’s in the 1970’s might have known the things that Jake seems to know about, like….. Randolph Scott.
So, even though it’s not the best SK book or novel I have ever read, it has been a good way to pass the time. If you ever get the chance, and haven’t already, you should check out his books with the short stories. They are classically Stephen King. Creepy, spooky, etc.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! And I think that I definitely will take your suggestion to check out some of his shorter stuff :)