I started this week with the theme of “Art from Dallas,” and I end this week on a book about Dallas, Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I had never read any Stephen King novels before I read this one, believing that they were all pure horror stories, which I don’t enjoy. But this book received such rave reviews that I decided to give it a try, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I ever had.
Published in 2011, the book earned many prizes as well as critical and popular acclaim. King himself postulated that the book would have the effect that it had on me, saying that it would attract fans of other genres besides horror. In 2016, it was made into a limited-length series on Hulu, with the title 11.22.63. The TV series starred James Franco and was produced by J. J. Abrams, among others. I enjoyed the series immensely, but it was very different in many ways from the book, which I suppose was to be expected, since the book is long and extremely complex.
Imagine you could go back in time. What would you do? This question is asked frequently on one of my favorite TV series, Doctor Who. But I remember thinking about it and talking about it even when I was in high school. Would I go back and kill Hitler while he was just a kid? Would that have prevented the Holocaust and WWII? It’s this kind of thinking that propels the novel. The main character, Jake Epping, is made aware of a time portal by a friend of his, Al, who owns a diner. Al explains that the portal takes anyone who enters back in time to 1958. No matter how long the person stays–whether minutes or years–when he returns, only two minutes have passed in current time. Al also explains that if the same person returns to the present and then goes back again, all changes made on a previous visit are undone. Al has spent four years in the 1950s and ’60s, in an attempt to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While there, he contracted cancer and realized he would not live to be able to make the change he hoped for. So he recruits Jake to take his place, giving him the facts and helpful tips that he accumulated along the way.
It’s a good plan, but can Jake actually accomplish this task and make the world a better place? He quickly learns that the past is stubborn and will not be easily manipulated. He also discovers that he must be careful not to draw attention to himself, which is hard to do when you know ahead of time what is going to happen. He makes his way to Texas and begins to follow Lee Harvey Oswald around, trying to find out if he acted alone or was part of a conspiracy.
One of the things that makes this story so enjoyable is the difficulty with which Jake must adapt to living in the 1950s. The book was very well researched and contains lots of interesting facts about Dallas, the Oswalds and other people associated with them, and the general feeling of the times. There’s a romance, and loads of adventures as Jake dodges discovery and works to meet the challenges of times that don’t want to be changed.
I won’t say anything more, because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it. My hope is that my recommendation will bring more readers to this fascinating book. Don’t watch the Hulu series until you’ve read the novel, but if you don’t enjoy reading, then I do recommend the series. It’s very well made and enjoyable, too.