Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: 22/11/63

Stephen King – 22/11/63
 11/22/63
I hate time travel. I mean really hate it. I can enjoy reading about it or maybe watching it to a degree but ultimately I am left disappointed and annoyed. You see most of the time, travelling back in time and altering events never makes sense. There is always there whole question of, “well if that person had to travel back in time to influence that event then when was the first time it happened and what happened then,” question.
It was one of the reasons why I’m one of the only people that does not regard the Back to the Future series so highly. I can enjoy them as films, (well 1 and 3, I find the second film woeful). At the end of the day they do not stand up to scrutiny.
I have the same opinion with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry ends up saving himself? Seriously? How does that even work if you think about it?
The only series that has ever got time travel right in my opinion is an episode of Supernatural. Sam and Dean travel back to when their parents were young and despite their best efforts are unable to alter much.
So after that lengthy introduction, you can imagine my dread when it was announced Stephen King’s next book was going to be based around time travel. I love King. The man is easily in my top 5 authors, but I was seriously dreading this.
As the book approached release date however, it began garnering positive reviews. I expect nothing less from King but often he is not always praised so highly. I then saw an interview with King where he talked about how time travel has never been done correctly. Some of the best authors had tackled it and in his opinion stumbled.
It seemed Mr. King shared my views and thus led me to purchasing the book.
22/11/63 centres around Jake - A divorced teacher plodding through life. His estranged wife left him as he was emotionally unavailable. He has only ever cried twice in his life. Once when his Mother died and the second at a true story one of his student s had written about a horrible night in their childhood where their Dad had murdered his family. However Jake doesn’t care as she was an alcoholic.
When one day he is shown an amazing secret - a portal back into 1958, his life changes for ever.
With this book King is extremely clever. He has built into the story a failsafe switch that resets any history that Jake may alter. Every time he travels back to 2011, no matter how many, days, weeks, months or years he has been gone. Only two minutes have elapsed. If he were to re-enter the portal he would find his back in 1958 and everything would be reset.
Jake is shown the portal by the owner of the local burger bar, with the one request of travelling back in time to prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy.
What follows is a fascinating portrayal of life in the 50’s and 60’s. King really captures this period in time perfectly. His depiction of Jake integrating himself into society is believable and engaging. Jake himself is an excellent character. A reluctant hero of sorts, he is sceptical and wary of the consequences of his actions. Instead of choosing to fulfil his mission he decides to experiment on altering the past.
The first of these events he tries to prevent is some of King’s best writing. Fans of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day will love the book but that isn’t giving the book enough praise.
Another idea that King has come up with is that the past does not wish to be changed. Every time Jake tries to change the past, the past fights back throwing obstacles after heartbreaking obstacle.
At his heart though 22/11/63 is a love story. Jake falls in love with a local substitute teacher. Their relationship is explored gently. The courting is in keeping of the era it takes place. The secondary characters are all vivid. The best of these being Teke, who reminded me of the kind neighbour in Pet Semetary.
The battle Jake faces to keep his true intentions and past a secret is a constant source of interest. The characters around him are not dumb but King makes Jake’s character believable enough that they don’t question him too much.
Lee Harvey Oswald is well portrayed. I have no idea what the man was like in reality, but King portrays him in an effective way. His motivation for the assassination attempt is sound although unhinged. The best part is the way King portrays Oswald’s family. They are long suffering to a viscous spoilt bully, but King injects just enough tenderness in the family dynamic to make it realistic that they stay together.
Most people loath King’s endings. I am pleased to say that his latest offering is a good one. King says himself that his son came up with it but it is difficult to see how the book could end in any other way. My rating: 9.4