“11/22/63” by Stephen King
“11/22/63” (or “1963-11-22” as it should have been titled if people wrote dates in a proper way) is Stephen King’s novel about Jake Epping, a divorced high school teacher who travels back in time from 2011 to 1958. Jake’s time machine is a time bubble, hidden inside the pantry in his friend Al’s diner. Unlike other time bubbles you might have read about - and I assume you have thorough knowledge about how other time bubbles work - the one in Al’s pantry has some peculiar features:
- When you enter, you’re always transported back to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 a.m.
- Not matter how long you stay in the past, only two minutes have elapsed when you return to the future through the time bubble. You will have aged the time you stayed in the past, though.
- The future can be changed. Hello butterfly effect.
- Objects can be transported through the time bubble. Al used this feature to buy dead cheap meat in 1958, which he took with him back through the bubble and used to make very affordable burgers - so affordable, there were rumors going around he used cat meat.
- The bubble resets every time you go through it. This means that if you return to the future and realize you changed something in the past that had a horrible impact on the future, you can simply go through the bubble again, back to 1958 and the future is reset to its “original” state.
- The future doesn’t want to be changed, and will do it’s best to try to prevent it from happening. The resistance is proportional to the magnitude and historical significance of the change. Trying to prevent someone from killing is wife and kids? There’s a good chance you’ll come down with a massive migraine with a touch of explosive diarrhea.
Are you confused yet? Probably not, and there’s a good chance you won’t be when reading the book either. “11/22/63” is not so much about the intricate matters of time travel, but rather more about the love story between a man from the future, whose goal is to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 (hence the title of the book), and Sadie, a clumsy librarian.
The book is a massive 841 pages, and there is a lot of the love story between Jake and Sadie in there. For some reason, it reminds me a lot about what happened between Roland the gunslinger and Susannah Dean in the The Dark Tower series, but that might just be my mind playing tricks on me since King wrote that one, too. But in The Dark Tower series, it works. In “11/22/63”, it feels like there is an unnecessary amount of love story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if King and his editor could have ripped out about half of the book and made it a much better story.
There is also one little detail that annoyed me through pretty much the entire book. It’s a massive spoiler, so I’ve hidden it, only to be revealed once you move your mouse cursor over the censored text (or clicked it if you’re on a capable device with a touch screen): Since everything is reset every time you enter the time bubble, what’s stopping Jake from killing Oswald as early has he possibly can, then return to 2011 to see if Oswald really was the killer? If it turns out he wasn’t, Jake could then simply return to 1958 to find the actual assassin. Jake (and Al’s) excuse is that he has be to as sure as possible before he kills Oswald to stop him, but does that really matter? If he kills the wrong guy, he is magically brought back to life with a quick stroll through the bubble. Or maybe I’ve missed something essential?
All that said, I enjoyed most of Stephen King’s “11/22/63”, but far from as much as I suspect I could have. But then again, that would have been a completely different book.