11/22/63 is first and foremost a time-travel novel. Jake Epping, mid-30s divorcee, steps through a wormhole to 1958, and endeavors, at the behest of his dying friend Al, to stop the Kennedy assassination. But this is also a thriller of the highest order, a love story that might wring tears from even the most emotionless jerk, and a glance back to and an examination of American culture in the early '60s.
And it's all friggin' awesome!
This is the first book I've finished in 2012, but it's going to take a lot to knock it from its pedestal as a favorite of the year. Yes, it's that good.
(One second...I'm trying to get this gush under control.)
Okay. So what does Jake do in the intervening five years between when he steps out of the wormhole on a sunny, warm September day in 1958 and the late-November day that changed the world? To me, that's the most interesting part — Jake basically gets a second chance at life, just as he's hoping to provide a second chance for the last half of the 20th century not to be so horrible. (Working theory: If Jake can prevent the Kennedy assassination, by extension, it'll also prevent MLK's death, the Vietnam War, and the bring about a quicker end to the Cold War.) He goes to Texas and teaches English, and tries to shadow Lee Harvey Oswald to find out if he's really the sole shooter or not. Will history be changed as Jake and his buddy Al expect, if Jake is successful? That's the question that hangs over the novel, and gives it a huge sense of page-turning immediacy.
There is a definitive answer, and it's part of what makes this novel a huge success: A carefully crafted, wonderfully insightful ending. It's such a departure for King, who has a tendency to head off the reservation with crazy ending. (see: Under The Dome) Not so, here. You'll love it, I promise you.
Yes, on the surface, this is a bit of detour to the "meaty" Kennedy parts. But I loved this back story because it gives the reader a chance to really understand how King's time-travel "universe" works. Often, the success or failure of a novel is dependent upon how well it follows its own rules. And with time-travel, that's always tricky. And it can be boring, if the author takes up several chapters continuously discussing and reviewing the rules. But King nails it — he assumes the reader knows the basic "rules" of time-travel and only slightly tweaks those for his own purposes. And so the novel just sings right along.
It's really superb. I can't recommend it more highly. Five stars.
(Finally, if you're interested in a comparison of my two favorite time travel novels of all time — now that this one has taken one of those spots — check out my post on Book Riot today.)