Bane of Kings reviews Stephen King’s latest novel, Goodreads’ best science fiction novel of 2011, 11.22.63, published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK. For another review of this title – the american version and the one that inspired me to pick up 11.22.63 in the first place, check out Djinn24’s review over here.
“11.22.63 is a fantastic read and both to non sci-fi fans and hardcore sci-fi fans alike. Even though it’s been done before, you can’t help but be awed at King’s latest tale.” ~The Founding Fields
If you picked somebody off the street and asked them if they could change any major event in history, chances are, they could pick the assassination of JFK, preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from killing the 35th President of the United States and changing the course of history.
But would it be for the better, or for the worse? Was Oswald the lone gunman? What ‘ripples’ would be created if somebody went back and changed an event in history that big?
This is what Stephen King explores in 11.22.63, the title named after the date of Kennedy’s assassination. The novel itself doesn’t actually deal with the assassination until the end of the book, but the title is nonetheless appropriate. The novel itself follows the character Jake Epping, an English teacher, who has recently read essays from his adult evening class. This is when he comes across School Janitor Harry Dunning’s assignment, who describes a tragic event that shaped his life on Halloween 1958, where his mother and siblings were killed with a sledgehammer by his father in a drunken rage.
Not long after that, Jake receives a call from Al Templeton, who runs a diner and informs him that he has discovered a ‘rabbit-hole’ to the past. Inspired to set things right for Harry Dunning, Jake agrees to take on Al’s mission – to leave the world of 2011 behind, for the world of Root Beers and Elvis Presley. However, if Jake manages to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy, surely – things can only get better, with no Vietnam and no race riots, if JFK had lived?
The novel is told entirely in first person, right through the 700-odd pages, but it’s a read that you won’t struggle to get through. You’ll find yourself turning the pages of 11.22.63 as quickly as you would an enthralling book that was half its size. It’s fast paced, and maintains the pace throughout the entire novel.
King draws from personal experience in order to create this novel, after all – he was a teenager at the time of Kennedy’s death and even originally planned to write this novel not long after the assassination, but prolonged it until 2011 to release it as one of his latest works.
What a novel 11.22.63 is. You can tell by my review that I enjoyed it, and I am a Stephen King fan after all, (despite only having read two of his books, The Last Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. But, I might as well tell you why I deserved it, and why I have given it such a high verdict as you will find out below.
King proves that he can write characters well, and not just that – make them believable and likeable. Jake Epping is an average guy – who just happens to have discovered a ‘rabbit hole’ into the past. The author has thought up not only Jake’s character superbly, who develops as the novel goes on, but also the many other characters – Sadie, Harry Dunning, Al Templeton, heck – even Lee Harvey Oswald, are all well created and mostly likeable. (With the exception of a couple of characters, including Oswald himself.)
King doesn’t bog down the novel with the science fiction side of the story, as this would put a lot of the non-genre readers off and drag the pace down to a point where 11.22.63 would become a chore to get through, and he steers clear of this and that is one of the reasons why this novel works as well as it should.
The novel itself combines many genres into one, from Romance to the obvious Sci-Fi, and it also gives King the chance to prove that he knows his research – I think most, if not all of the historical periods are correct in 11.22.63 – which obviously makes the book a lot more enthralling than say if King had wrongly put the Cuban Missile Crisis before the Bay of Pigs. (Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration there).
I couldn’t put 11.22.63 down, and despite its size, It will enthral not only the readers who don’t normally pick up science fiction, but it will also provide something new for the one reader who’s read everything and anything on Kennedy’s assassination including the conspiracy theories.
Ah, including the conspiracy theories. I’d like to end this review by talking about them. Did Lee Harvey Oswald kill John F. Kennedy, or was it the Mafia, the CIA or even Lyndon B. Johnson? The doubt runs through the whole novel right up until the assassination, when Jake must hope and pray that nobody else was involved. For example, what if he disrupted them to find out that Kennedy was shot from a different direction?
Nonetheless, 11.22.63 is, in my opinion, one of the best ‘What if?’ Novels that I’ve ever read and sees King soar into becoming one of my favourite authors. You should love this novel, Stephen King fan or not.
Stephen King’s Dark Tower Novels: The Last Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Songs of Susannah, The Dark Tower, The Wind Through the Keyhole (Coming Soon)