Bookmarks Issue: 
Stephen King

A-112263In the body of Stephen King's fiction--nearly 50 novels--11/22/63, an audacious refashioning of the Kennedy assassination and an exploration into the nature of time, fate, and love, might be his most ambitious book to date. Reviewed: Full Dark, No Stars ( 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2011), Blockade Billy ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2010), Under the Dome ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2010).

The Story: "Get rid of one wretched waif, buddy, and you could save millions of lives." With those words, Al Templeton, a cancer-stricken diner owner about to lose his business, convinces high school English teacher Jake Epping to take a trip into the past--September 9, 1958, to be exact. When Epping lands there under the assumed identity of George T. Amberson, he's got one goal in mind: to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy five years in the future. But what Epping/Amberson discovers in Dallas is a world of misdirection and coincidence (and, in an unusual twist for Stephen King, romance) that forces him to dig hard to get to the truth--before he kills Lee Harvey Oswald, thereby changing the course of history. Easier said than done. "The past," Jake learns, "is obdurate."
Scribner. 849 pages. $35. ISBN: 9781451627282

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"On the 849 pages between those covers, Mr. King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery. ... Mr. King's description of America in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, fearing imminent nuclear annihilation, is at least as scary as anything he ever made up." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A tale richly layered with the pleasures we've come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story. ... [King] is not only as famous and wealthy a writer as any of his time; his work suggests that if a time traveler found a portal to the 22nd century and looked for the authors of today still being read tomorrow, Stephen King would be one of them." Jeff Greenfield

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"11/22/63 draws you into the lives of ordinary people and their problems with the pull that has always been the secret to King's phenomenal success. ... Fortunately King, who is now 64, has long been aware of how much his faithful readers love him, and 11/22/63 is, in many ways, a gift from him to us." Rene Rodriguez

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Jake may wear a similarly white hat, but his efforts to rewrite the past in his own image also dabble in black magic, of the sort that tempts every great quester searching to write the story of a different and better future. As 11/22/63 proves anew, King is one of them, and his latest quest merits a journey of your own to your favorite bookstore." Mike Fischer

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This is King's first novel to focus on a single historical event, and he brings to vivid life such actual characters as the mysterious émigré and possible spy George de Mohrenschildt, hapless FBI Agent James Hosty (Oswald's keeper in the months before the assassination) and Oswald himself. ... Harrowing, heroic and heartbreaking, 11/22/63 is a trip into the past you won't want to miss." Colette Bancroft

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"King, who first tried to write this book in 1972, would--as always--benefit from more aggressive editing. Still, a reader who tries merely sampling 11/22/63 may find herself blowing off commitments, settling into a chair for the weekend and swallowing the book whole." Michelle Jarboe McFee

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"King's 11/22/63 is a boring read. ... King has thoroughly researched this period of U.S. history, but it bogs down his story." Carole E. Barrowman

Critical Summary

The logistics of time travel could have sunk 11/22/63 very quickly. But what has always separated Stephen King from the pack is his storytelling ability and his immersion--and seeming belief--in the tales he tells. Riffing on time travel without running into the scientific weeds, the novel recalls Jack Finney's Time and Again or Ken Grimwood's Replay (which itself features an interesting take on the Kennedy assassination). King's books are long and occasionally in need of some pruning, but he's earned his words, and readers would be sorely disappointed if the stories ever went under the knife. Those who grew up reading King know that even his bad sentences are better than most. The veteran's got another hit on his hands.