Sunday, January 08, 2017

11/22/63 (2011)

In this day and age it might be true that no one writes more compelling big fat novels than our master of horror, Stephen King. As you probably know (or can tell), 11/22/63 is not exactly horror, but more like straight-up science fiction time travel with a dash of alternate history, plus various moral object lessons. As is my experience with so many King novels, approximately the first third is the best part, busy laying out concepts and embarking on the quest of the plot. After that it's often a lot of attempts to resolve issues large and small, which starts to feel mechanical. For the most part King adheres to the DC Comics precepts of time travel—in short, you can't change history no matter what you do, so don't even try—though it switches up some of the rules and has a few surprises. The core premise is pure baby boomer territory, with our two main heroes traveling back to 1958 in a rift they find in the pantry of a diner. Their mission: thwart the assassination of John Kennedy. Complications ensue, as they will in a novel that runs to over 800 pages. Along the way I was impressed by how much information about that day I have absorbed—no surprise really, as I am a Social Security card-carrying baby boomer myself. This story adheres faithfully to the popular lone-gunman version of events, starring Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. King hardly ignores the conspiracies, and doesn't exactly rule them out either, but Oswald is the guy they're trying to stop in this book. In an afterword, King discusses the case and how he arrived at the lone-gunman conclusion for himself. (And once again Case Closed is cited, so enough. I will have to get to it one day after all.) To be clear, on the other assumption about Kennedy's death, I do not agree with the idea that Kennedy's assassination was some critical pivot point of American history (beyond the space program), and it turns out King probably has some reservations about that too. There's not much in the way of profound historical insight here, but the great fun of this book is the getting there, always a wonderful point in works of these proportions, when they are working. King obviously relishes the detail of the period under consideration, 1958 to 1963, with the kind of incidentals at which he can be so good, popular culture markers of songs, movies, TV, news events, and even food, along with familiar family emotional dynamics. There's also a very nice love story here. As always, King's knack for making the ordinary feel portentous is well exercised. He is especially good here at anthropomorphizing circumstances—that is, the daily humdrum of good days and bad days—injecting indelible elements of malevolence into things like paper cuts or stumbling on a sidewalk, as if powerful unseen forces are constantly swirling around us and influencing things. This is a fun one for long days and nights of reading.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment