11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a good--if unnecessarily long--read. Though I definitely think it could have used some heavy editing, I admit that I never became bored with it. King's ability to keep the narrative interesting for more than 800 pages is an achievement in itself. Actually, I think he deserves credit for pulling off quite a tough literary trick here because he does so while introducing nothing new to the time-travel genre and operating from the beginning with a premise whose final outcome the reader already knows.
From the first time Al and Jake (George) begin to hatch their plan to re-write history by stopping Kennedy's assassination, we know that this won't work. Keeping Kennedy alive will no doubt have unintended consequences that will result in a dystopic future--or should I say present. You also know early on that George will very likely face a tough choice between changing history or preserving the budding romance with Sadie. Yet somehow when most of the narrative follows the expected arc, it's highly satisfying rather than frustrating. I chalk this up to King's ability to make the past come to life in what is obviously a very well-researched novel. From that first description of vintage 1958 root beer to the day to day drama at Jody High School, he does such a good job of making you feel the late 50s/early 60s, that you don't mind spending way to much time with these characters.
This falters a bit with the overlong section in which Jake--now George--does his Oswald surveillance. A good bit of this really comes off as if King got enthralled with his own research and was desperate to lay it all at the reader's feet.
A larger narrative quibble I have is with choice Jake is eventually forced to make. In the near end, he saves Kennedy but Sadie is killed in the process. When he returns to the future, he is faced with the decision to go back through the rabbit-hole and reset the timeline so that Sadie will live and Kennedy will die. This is a potentially powerful choice, but King seems to squander that potential by making the future so dystiopic that hitting the reset button to sacrifice Kennedy and save Sadie is a bit too much of a no-brainer.
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