A Brief warning before I begin, there will be slight spoilers in this review.  BUT I will alert you prior to said spoilers.  The only other thing I will say is that I hope what I don’t believe to be spoilery you won’t either.

Do you like alternate history stories?  Do you dig sci-fi?  No?  How about expertly told tales of personal journeys of understanding of life’s complexities and the search for love, albeit long winded ones?
All three are wrapped up in King’s time-traveling adventure to stop the assassination of JFK.

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher who is ever so slightly bored with the day to day reading and correcting of emotionally devoid papers.  The opening chapter has us reading with Jake the first emotionally charged paper Jake has read in a while.  The paper and the story itself and how King presents it is more a hook than the plot itself.  Kings voice in telling the bitter tale of this grown man’s childhood and the reaction of Jake as he reads it, is telling the reader what to expect and what to want out of the characters and the novel itself.  What is important?  To you as the reader, to you as a person living a life you think is boring and dull.  What would you give up to change something, what wouldn’t you?

Jake is called upon by a local burger joint owner who has a “rabbit-hole” in a closet in his diner that leads to Maine in 1958.  But Professor, you interject, the novel is 11/22/1963, you must be mistaken about 1958; that’s 5 years prior.  Why yes it is.  That!  is what makes King so good at what he does.  Jake is shown this “rabbit -hole” by Al’s diner eponymous owner and convinced to live 5 years in the past so he can effectively stop JFK’s assassination.  He can only do this once, because every time you go back through, everything resets.  Save someones life in ’59 come back to 2011 (only 2 minutes pass in this reality) and decide to go back to ’58; reset!  So begins Jake’s experimentation in changing history.  Everything he does once, he has to do a second time (first time round is only practice).

This is where the long-windedness of this novel comes into play.  When Jake ends up living a full 5 years in the past he must make money.  He does this by placing bets on various sporting events thanks to copious notes by Al.  Al has a notebook chock full of important details on this and of course the life and times of both JFK and the infamous Lee Oswald.  King waxes on and on, and on, and on, on how Jake makes his money and every punch in every fight and every cheer for every horse-race and how betting works.  It’s exhausting, to be honest.  This and Jake’s life as a teacher in ’58; putting on plays and living and eating and falling in love…. !  Ah that’s the point, folks.  Live with this character enough to where you are seeing his day to day activities and you almost forget that he is there to stop an assassination that the world is still feeling to this day.  But so does he, and then you can begin to see the formation of what may become more important to a man than his original mission.  And it is this, that makes King a champion at character development and as an ace at the writing game.

King loves to create worlds within our own existing world.  According to the afterward in the novel a good 90 some percent is historically accurate when it comes to the cast involved in JFK’s assassination.  Oswald, his wife and children; their lives and compatriots; Jack Ruby, the known FBI agents and more.  King acknowledges what he changed or added.  He deals with the conspiracies expertly and doesn’t necessarily answer any questions but he leans a certain way and it all works wonderfully.

Now here’s the funny thing; if you are a King reader or just know enough about King you know that many of his novels all interweave with each other.  They do this either simply by being in the same area of Maine, or having characters know each other etc.  In 11/22/63 King does a couple of things like this even to a humorous extent; if you know Christine and It, you’ll get the clues immediately.  This stuff happens no more than in his Dark Tower novels (which just get better every time I read them).  In The DT novels we visit various characters and locals in many of Kings previous works.  There is even Stephen King, who gets in a horrific car accident (King himself was in such an accident)  King writes what he knows, he’s a writer who has used a pen – name so he wrote the Dark Half.  He was a teacher, so Jake Epping is the teacher that King either was or wanted to be; and more.  In Duma Key Kings main character is who has also been in a terrible car accident.  It is not a surprise that this has been a corner stone to Kings immediate life story and he has used many times over.  And 11/22/63 is no different.  This point leads to a spoiler……

***********************Spoilers************Spoilers*********it shouldn’t matter but Spoilers Ahead************

Towards the end of the novel two things happen that I must write about, spoiler or not.  Jake (at this point George Amberson) gets the shit beat out of him by a bookie.  The damage his body sustains and his road to recovery is once again eerily similar to Kings own situation.  So I can only say that King (who had the idea for this novel back in the early ’70’s) wants Jake to be his own Avatar and slay the dragon that was Oswald.

A second thing that is worth mentioning and it’s too bad that is blanketed by a spoiler is how King deals with the future sans the assassination of JFK.  If you are reading this and know about my recent Facebook quandary about Dan Simmon’s Flashback; than you’ll understand what I’m about to write.  If not, in a nutshell; I want to read Dan Simmon’s Flashback because I loved his novel Drood (I mean really freakin’ loved it) and really enjoyed The Terror.  Flashback has an awesome plot but I’m dismayed to find that this novel is a very lightly barely even veiled attempt at what some critics have called a Tea-party manifesto, and that every thing that goes wrong in Simmon’s future is due to something Obama did wrong.  I don’t know if I want to read something that is not so much an alternate history/future but a finger pointing political ranting and raving.  Anyway; King handles an alternate present day with finesse by doing research!  Most of all in the afterward he acknowledges the aid of JFK historians when he asked them “the worst case scenario’s had JFK lived” and what some of his political choices may have been and where they may have lead us.  So the world Jake “George” Epping comes back to in 2011 after saving JFK are all highly educated “worst case scenario’s.  I really like that, Research!  It means something to me.

End of Spoilers ********** End of Spoilers***********end of spoilers ************************************

It was all a dream!!!  No I’m kidding!  All in all 11/22/63 was a really wonderfully written novel that you should take the time and read. King does some wonderful handling of time travel, how the past will try and fix things that you may put wrong and how it may even try and stop you.  He really put “the Butterfly Effect” into high gear.  Think about it, what you try and change about the past; and what if you fell into something that changed your life and someone else’s while you were trying to change that first thing?  What becomes more important and more importantly than that, why?  While you ponder, read 11/22/63; continue to follow your dear ole professor and remember; Dancing is Life (so says the King, the writer not the rock star).
update

A friend pointed out to me a mistake in my review.  In Duma Key, Kings’ main character was a home builder not an author, the correction has been updated in the above review.  Thank you very much for you attention to detail and bringing it to my attention; Jay Palmer.  Now please go read the rest of my reviews and correct them to your hearts content. 🙂

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