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Book Review: 11.22.63

People often remember their whereabouts during world changing events such as 9/11, 7/7, Michael Jackson’s death and so on, some may go a step further, fantasising about the infinite possibilities of what if. What if these major events never occurred and to what effect they would have on us, society and the world?

Stephen King’s bestseller’s 11.22.63 ponders these questions, as reader’s time travel back to 1963, Dallas, during the time of President John F Kennedy’s assassination, and poses whether the past can be changed, and what consequences could saving Kennedy possibly have on America’s future.

In 11.22.63, Jake Epping, a divorced schoolteacher living in Maine is summoned by the owner of Al's Diner, a local eatery that has become popular but also suspect as a result of being able to sell, in 2011, burgers at near-1950s prices. The restaurateur, now, on the verge of death, has found a portal in his pantry that leads to a particular day in 1958, where the time-traveler can begin a stay lasting months or even potentially years, always returning two minutes later. Cancer has interrupted Al during a five-year mission to prevent the event, which he believes is responsible for misdirecting America’s history: President Kennedy’s death. With the emotional blackmail of a dying man, Al commissions Jake to go back in time, kill Oswald and save Kennedy.

Time travel literature commonly holds the power to highlight a particular time or period in great detail and nostalgia, King follows suit by successfully immersing the reader in to the richness of America’s past. 11.22.63 is first and foremost an incredibly well researched historical piece of work. Jake, who adopts the cover identity of real estate salesman George Amberson luxuriates in unadulterated root beers and chocolate pies of an era pre-fast food, where people are friendlier and prices are exceptionally low.

A novel about thwarting Lee Harvey Oswald, the main suspect of Kennedy’s murder is crucially different from one about changing the past of a convicted murderer, as many readers question whether Oswald is really to blame. Jake regularly agonises over the fact that even if he changes the shape of Oswald's day on 11.22.63, he may discover that the conspiracy theorists were right and Kennedy could have been murdered by someone else. Readers find themselves caught up in this moral conundrum too, as King cleverly shows that there are always two sides to a story. By the end you question if Oswald was merely the product of American culture, and if circumstances were different, could he have been a good, law abiding citizen? The only criticism of King, I could give is the sheer length of the novel. There were parts of his 700-pager, when I felt a little bored by the extent and crisscrossing between genres. However, the plot is gripping enough to keep you turning over the pages.

The novel is a narratively thrilling, thoughtful, character-centered journey into the heart of the American dream. It will have you laughing and leaning breathlessly over the pages. It will make you stay up past bedtime, and it will make you cry. What more can you ask of a book? You don't have to be a King fan or a lover of sci-fi to be delighted by 11.22.63.

Written by Esther Dark