I have planned on writing a review of Stephen King’s new book, 11/22/63, for a while now but I just haven’t been able to get around to it. I think what has been holding me back is the fact that I haven’t been in the mood to entertain snotty comments and harsh judgments about Stephen King. I didn’t want to hear about how people “don’t read horror”, “have books they have to get to before King” or whatever boring argument that people who have never read anything by King come up with. But, today, an article crossed my path (which you can find here) that put a fire under my tush and now I’m going to let you all have it
This is a very touchy subject for me. I have been known to yell, storm from the room and name-call in defence of Stephen King. I am also guilty of smiling condescendingly when people tell me that they don’t read him and then offer to lend me their copy of Number 9 Dream – which, I’m sorry folks, was a nauseating Murakami rip-off without any guts and it’s highly designed outline was showing (Warning: This could get mean).
11/22/63 is not a horror novel. In fact, many, if not most, Stephen King novels are not horror novels. 11/22/63 is a historical fantasy (I suppose) that follows a time traveller in his plot to prevent the Kennedy assassination. This subject may seem a bit out of his usual vein of subject matter but, since I’ve read a lot of Stephen King, I know that he meditates on the climate of the 60’s and the generation that experienced it in few of his books. In his memoir and book on writing, called On Writing (which I highly recommend and can be found here for free), he laments that this generation of people “had the chance to change the world and opted for The Home Shopping Network.” I, for one, besides being interested in that generation and what the potential was, really wanted to know what King thought the world would be like if JFK had lived and I wasn’t disappointed.
In a recent interview on the CBC , King admits that he had the idea for a novel that averted the assassination soon after it happened. However it took a couple of decades and another “where-were-you-when” scenario like 9/11 to really bring the story to the forefront. The story is basically a love story between a man, a woman, a country and a time. It is a fascinating glimpse into a place that people have been to and can never go to again.
Who is Stephen King to tell this story? Only the person who has practically shaped our generation’s popular culture – think: Carrie, Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, Children of the Corn, Misery, Delores Claiborne, The Stand,The Dead Zone, The Green Mile, Hearts in Atlantis and The Dark Tower Series (which I could talk about for, approximately, three days – talk about culture jamming – it’s insane what he gets away with in these books. Insane.). These are our popular movies and books. They star our favourite actors and sometimes scare the crap out of us. He is the person to speculate on such things because, the man has been watching us for a long time, whether you like it or not.
I imagine that most people into historical fiction will avoid 11/22/63 because it’s written By Stephen King and they’d rather cling to their delusions of truth in non-fiction. But, for those of us that know the particular kind of honesty that can only come from fiction, we have this story. It’s about a guy that isn’t real doing things that we can’t remember and changing things that we can’t. He goes to a place that we can never go to again, except through him and he lives there for us. For that, I am grateful because I super wanted to know what root beer tasted like before high fructose corn syrup and what it must have felt like to really dance at a Sadie Hawkins dance.
11/22/63 is an interesting and well researched historical look at a time that shares so many parallels with our own. It’s worth checking out. I will admit that it’s a bit on the long side. King lovers won’t mind (I minded) because it’s fun to hear him talk but, I think his editors are afraid of him or something because it was killing me to get to the point at times. And he really needs to lose the whole dialect thing — it’s cheesy.
Other than that, it’s good to go. So read it or don’t but, then, don’t expect me not to judge you for it.
5 thoughts on “Things You should know about Stephen King and 11/22/63”
I’ve just finished it and loved every page. I teach the JFK assassination to my high school students (we investigate the evidence for and against Oswald and who might want JFK dead) so I loved seeing the assassination from this perspective. King seems to have hit a real purple patch at the moment after a bit of a dip in quality. I wonder how much of this book was adapted from his first attempt at the story in the 70s?
I’ll bet it’s a lot different. The 50’s were still so fresh in everyone’s mind in the 70’s that the distance has to account for much of the atmosphere of this book. Even recalling it now, I feel a little sad that I’ll never get to go there, to this long ago place.
Plus, he didn’t have the parallel where were you when moment like 9/11 to put into context.