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Tuesday, November 19, 2013
11/22/63: A Novel...a wish-fulfillment...and a warning
$19.99 trade paper, available now
Rating: 5* of five
The Publisher Says: If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?
Jake Epping, 35, teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor's story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock 'n roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?
My Review: Republished in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination this week.
Jake Epping is a modestly successful high-school English teacher with a bad, broken marriage to an alcoholic behind him, a future of great sameness before him, and a date with destiny that cannot be foreseen. He is, in short, you, or me, or any other Stephen King hero.
What happens to Jake is, he gets a chance to change the world. Seriously. No spoilers here, but Jake gets a chance to make 11/22/63 just another date on the calendar Pope Julius invented for us. How? Through a little rabbit-hole in time that a friend of Jake's finds, uses, and tries to accomplish the salvation of Kennedy through the use of: Living from September 9, 1958, until he can get rid of Lee Harvey Oswald before November 22, 1963. But the past, you see, doesn't want to be changed. So the guy gets terminal cancer, comes home to 2011, and zaps Jake with the job of changing the future by changing the past.
Jake does. Boy, does he ever. Way big does he change the future.
Nothing in life is free. Remember the first time you heard that? Was it your mom or your dad who laid it on you? How hard did you kick against knowing it, and for how long?
Jake takes a week. I aged a hundred years in the week Jake took. So will you.
And that's all I'll say. Well, no, not all.
Every life has its losses, mine included. They're not so interesting to other people, of course, because folks are mostly interested in their own miseries and haven't got a lot of energy to spare for the troubles of others. Okay, fine; what fiction does is, it gives us a chance to have a catharsis, in the ancient Greek sense, the reason they invented plays and melodrama and tragedy and comedy. It was therapy to go to a play and scream and cry and howl with laughter. The whole point was to get it all out. Catharsis.
I experienced many moments of catharsis in reading this book. I was wrung dry of tears on several happy and several sad occasions. I relived the might-have-beens of my own little life. I redrew the contours of history a couple times, inspired by King's redrawings.
I was swept up in a story that I so wanted to be told, and I was completely aghast when it was over because I didn't want it to be over, and I didn't want the finality of the ending to step on my gouty toes the way I thought it would.
But, like so many before me, I stubbed my toe on the stair of King's story and said ouch, before I realized it was a stair. Stairs go up, or they go down, but you'll never know which in the darkness until you feel for the next one.
But the deal is, once you know which way you're going, you're already there, committed to the movement. Exactly, in other words, like living life.
This is why Stephen King is our own Mr. Dickens. I hate Dickens' bloated, boring prose and his tedious, ridiculous plots, but he and King both write the books that offer catharsis to the audience of the age. (Just for gods' sweet sake, quit trying to pretend Chuckles is still speaking to you! And those gawdawful dull Shakespeare plays, stop it! You know you hate 'em like the rest of us do!)
The ending of the story was, for this reader, a catharsis of epic proportions. I hate and envy Jake, I bleed inside for him, I want to comfort him and slug him. I am undone by jealousy for his last harmony between past and present. I want one, too.
I got it, my last harmony, and you might too, if you'll read the 840pp of exciting and fast-paced life in 11/22/63. Please do.
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