I finished 11/22/63 last Sunday. This book was an incredible book. I am a huge fan of Stephen King. I love everything I’ve ever read that he wrote. But I typically read him to lose myself in a fantasy world that doesn’t exist – and not usually to do any thinking, really, other than figuring out what kind of evil, supernatural or alien thing is going on in this particular book.
11/22/63 is different, though. In typical SK fasion, there is that element of horror, although this time it’s in a more…well, for lack of a better word, realistic way. Instead of some alien or supernatural creature, we have crazy ex-husbands and real life bad guys, in the form of Oswald. It reminds me of Cujo, in the sense that it’s scarier because it’s about something that could have possibly happened in reality.
Having heard so many people talk about how they believe JFK could have been the greatest president ever had he not been assassinated, I really expected the book to go down that path of how great things were when Jake/George succeeded in stopping the assassination. I should have known better, of course – we’re talking about Stephen King here. Happiness and light is NOT his thing.
Instead, he went down the dark path of what might have happened. Radiation, terrorists coming out sooner, so much that went horribly wrong after Jake/George saved JFK.
Even before that, however, he shows that dark intent. When Jake/George saves a man whose father killed the entire family but for that one man, instead of having a limp and some severe mental limitations, the man instead dies in Vietnam.
Which is what really makes you think. Whenever we look back on past events, we always wonder how things might have been different had that one event gone a different way. But have you ever noticed that we only seem to think that good things would have come from a different path? We look at an old relationship and think “If I’d never met him/her, I’d have gone to college/married that other person/moved to Hawaii.” But what if that’s not the case? What if meeting that annoying/abusive/cheating ex stopped us from meeting someone even worse, or making a choice that down the road would have led to something much worse than where we are now?
SK also makes a point, especially toward the end, of noting how even the most insignificant changes, such as buying ink refills for a pen, could have huge effects on the future. It makes you give more weight to each decision, whether it’s what college to attend or whether to drink milk or water with dinner, wondering how that decision might impact the future.
I have always loved SK. I’ve thought that his mind is incredible, and I’d give anything to have half the imagination and talent that he does. But this book has given me a whole new level of respect for him. He’s taken one of the most significant events in our history, changed it and shown a darker version of what might have happened if that event had gone any differently than it actually did. It makes you think, not only about JFK’s assassination, but about every significant event in history. How many of them would have been changed had a previous event gone differently? If they would have been changed, would it have been for better or for worse? Where would we be today if those events had been changed?
But I think the biggest question it makes readers ask is: If you had the power to go back and change the past, would you? After reading this book, I’m not so sure I would.
It even has a little romance in it, for those who like that. Typically, I prefer my romance to end with the two characters who fell in love being together, presumably forever. In 11/22/63, Jake/George and Sadie do not end up together. He chooses instead to not change history, which means he doesn’t get to be with Sadie. While this might bug me in another book, in this book, it seems right. Jake/George gives her up not just to prevent horrible changes to history, but also because he loves her enough to not risk having her life ruined by his presence in it, which he fears is a real possibility. Jake/George proved that, for him, the happiness of the woman he loved really was more important than his own.
Even if you’ve never been a SK fan before, 11/22/63 is a book well worth reading.