Synopses & Reviews
On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King's heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination — a tour de force.
Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps readers back in time to another moment — a real life moment — when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces readers to a character who has the power to change the course of history.
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students — a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night fifty years ago when Harry Dunning's father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake's friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane — and insanely possible — mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake's new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life — a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best.
"High school English teacher Jake Epping has his work cut out for him in King's entertaining SF romantic thriller. Al Templeton, the proprietor of Al's Diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, has discovered a temporal 'rabbit hole' in the diner's storage room that leads to a point in the past 11:58 a.m. September 9, 1958, to be precise. Each time you go through the rabbit hole, according to Al, only two minutes have elapsed when you return to 2011, no matter how long your stay; furthermore, history resets itself each time you return to that morning 53 years ago. Al persuades Jake to take a brief, exploratory trip through the rabbit hole into 1958 Lisbon Falls. After Jake's return, a suddenly older and sick-looking Al confesses that he spent several years in this bygone world, in an effort to prevent President Kennedy's assassination, but because he contracted lung cancer, he was unable to fulfill his history-changing mission. 'You can go back, and you can stop' the assassination, he tells Jake. Jake, with only an alcoholic ex-wife by way of family, is inclined to honor his dying friend's request to save JFK, but he also has a personal reason to venture into the past. A night school student of his, school janitor Harry Dunning, recently turned in an autobiographical essay describing how on Halloween night 1958 Dunning's father took a hammer to Dunning's mother and other family members with, in some cases, fatal results. An attempt to head off this smaller tragedy provides a test case for Jake, to see if he can alter the past for the better. Hundreds of pages later, once over the initial hurdles, Jake is working under a pseudonym as a high school teacher in Jodie, Tex., an idyllic community north of Dallas. Knowing who's going to win sporting events like the World Series comes in handy when he's short of funds, though this ability to foretell the future turns out to have a downside. Indeed, the past, as Jake discovers to his peril, has an uncanny, sometimes violent way of resisting change, of putting obstacles in the way of anyone who dares fiddle with it. The author of Carrie knows well how to spice the action with horrific shivers. In Jodie, Jake meets a fellow teacher, Sadie Dunhill, who's estranged from her husband, a religious fanatic with serious sexual hangups. Jake and Sadie fall in love, but their relationship has its difficulties, not least because Jake is reluctant to tell Sadie his real identity or reason for being in Texas. Clearly inspired by Jack Finney's classic Time and Again, King smoothly blends their romance into the main story line, setting up the bittersweet ending that's as apt as it is surprising. He also does a fine job evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the late '50s and early '60s. The root beer even tastes better back then. By early 1963, Jake is zeroing in on a certain former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and has recently returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife. Relying on Al's judgment, Jake is only about 75% sure that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot JFK, so he spends much time trying to ascertain whether Oswald is part of a conspiracy. Jake admits to not having researched the Kennedy assassination while still in 2011 Maine. If he had, he might've given up after concluding that it would be hopeless to try to stop, say, the Mafia, or the CIA, or Vice President Johnson from killing Kennedy. On the other hand, the plot would've been a lot less interesting if Jake, convinced on entering the past that Oswald was the sole gunman, felt compelled to eliminate Oswald long before that pathetic loser settled into his sniper's nest in the Texas School Book Depository, toward which Jake winds up racing on the morning of November 22, 1963. In an afterword, King puts the probability that Oswald acted alone at 'ninety-eight percent, maybe even ninety-nine.' 'It is very, very difficult for a reasonable person to believe otherwise,' he adds. King cites several major books he consulted, but omits what I consider the definitive tome on the subject, Vincent Bugliosi's Edgar-winning Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Norton, 2007). Bugliosi, who makes an overwhelming case in my view that the Warren Commission essentially got it right, covers the same ground as a book King does mention, Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Random, 2003), then goes on to destroy the arguments of the conspiracy theorists, with wit and ridicule as weapons. Of course, there will always be intelligent and otherwise reasonable people, like PW's anonymous reviewer of Reclaiming History and King's wife, novelist Tabitha King (a life-long 'contrarian,' King tells us), who side with the host of cranks emotionally invested in believing Oswald was the patsy he claimed. Those folks may have a problem with this suspenseful time-travel epic, but the rest of us will happily follow well-meaning, good-hearted Jake Epping, the anti-Oswald if you will, on his quixotic quest. Peter Cannon is PW's Mystery/Thriller reviews editor." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"In King's...first full-length novel since 2009's Under the Dome, the horror master ventures into sf....King remains an excellent storyteller, and his evocation of mid-20th-century America is deft. Alternate-history buffs will especially enjoy the twist ending." David Rapp, Library Journal
"King's imagination, as always, yields a most satisfying yarn." Kirkus Reviews
"[O]ne of the best time-travel stories since H. G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It's romantic about the real possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else." Errol Morris, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Full Dark No Stars, Blockade Billy, Under the Dome, Just After Sunset, the Dark Tower novels, Cell, From a Buick 8, Everything's Eventual, Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey's Story and Bag of Bones. His acclaimed nonfiction book, On Writing, was recently re-released in a tenth anniversary edition. King was the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and in 2007 he was inducted as a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Maine with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.