With 11/22/63, Stephen King does time travel…

…and he does it well!

I haven’t even considered reading a Stephen King book for years.  I have nothing against him; I simply thought I had left his writing behind me twenty years ago with my teenager’s appetite for being shocked and terrified.  Thrillers are not my genre of choice these days, so I’ve not paid much attention to his steady offerings of the past decade.   However, there were quite a few hints and rumors about this one, and somehow it finally caught my attention that he’d moved into new territory and I should find out even if only to correct my ignorance about this popular author.  By the time I started the standard investigation and background check I use for books I consider offering in the store, 11/32/63 had already been out in hardcover for a while, had sold like hotcakes, and had over a thousand positive reviews.  No surprises there.  But that didn’t mean that I would love the book or that I should recommend it to friends and customers.  As I moved past counting stars and started reading exactly what the happy readers were saying, I grew curiouser and curiouser, and by the time the paperback edition finally came out last month it had made to the top of my personal reading list.

11/22/63 is a generous helping of pleasure reading in which time travel becomes a tool for a mission to stop the assassination of JFK.  For Jake Epping, our hero, changing the course of history involves making a pretty big commitment and rewriting his own life.  He’s further challenged by the fact that time, it turns outs, doesn’t seem to want to be changed, and there are surprises around every corner.  The writer and teacher turned accidental hero seemed blatantly autobiographical to me, but if so this Stephen King fellow is a down-to-earth likable guy and I have no complaint.  I particularly thought Stephen King set up his rules and consequences of time travel effectively and drew the reader into the emotional lives of his characters, which while handled well throughout was particularly effective when his ending leaves the reader with a sense of both deep loss and the kind of partial healing that real life tends to deliver.

I am generally pretty skeptical about writers who pop out a bestselling novel every year or two.  I find myself wondering how well-crafted their work could be and suspecting that their sales are the product of cheap thrills and formulas.  I won’t say that 11/22/63 is great literature.  I won’t say there were no cheap thrills, but I was paying too much attention to the story to notice how cheap the thrills were.  And I won’t even say this book doesn’t follow a formula, but we should remember that all literature including the classics follows formulas, and these repeating formulas seem to be etched into our primal storytelling souls.  The claim I make is that this a fun, well-told story, nether too dark nor too light, and it is unique enough to satisfy.  As I enjoyed the book, I was reminded that despite my skepticism about the popular, the main key to Stephen King’s long-term success is that he is an exceptionally gifted writer and a master storyteller.  He deserves his popularity.  I, for one, am giving his other recent titles a second look with an eye toward adding them to my reading plans.  I’m recommending 11/22/63 to any of my friends who enjoy pleasure reading with some substance, and I think it’s an especially nice choice for mystery fans who are in the mood for a change of pace.

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