WIJFR: 11/22/63

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Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. His 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.

Today I finished Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” I’m always a sucker for a good time travel story and while this one doesn’t break any new ground in the genre I enjoyed it.

Jake Epping is shown the “rabbit hole” by his friend Al, the owner of a local diner that connects to September 1958 through the storeroom. Al has been using the rabbit hole for years to buy supplies for the diner at 1958 prices, keeping his own costs down. Every trip into the past is a “reset” … it’s always the same day when you arrive, and when you get back to the present only two minutes has passed.

After a brief trip to experience the “Land of Ago” for himself, Jake is convinced the rabbit hole is what Al says it is. That’s when Al lays out his plan: to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 … a watershed moment that changed the world forever. Al was going to attempt this himself and had already lived a few years in the past himself, tracking Oswald and making notes, but got cancer and had to abort his mission early (returning to 2011 only two minutes after he left, but a few years older and much sicker). He asks Jake to carry out his plan instead and stop Oswald.

Like other time travel stories, “11/22/63” deals with things like the butterfly effect, paradoxes, and knowledge of the future. Since it involves JFK there’s also a healthy dose of history and conspiracy theory as well. The twist here is that the rabbit hole leads always leads to September 1958, four years before the assassination, and each trip through is a reset. After Jake spends a few months in 1958 to save the (2011) high school janitor from a childhood event to see if the past can indeed be changed, he has to do it all over again (with some modifications based on prior experience) the next time  he goes through. He knows that if he fails to prevent Oswald from killing JFK he can just go through the rabbit hole again and start over, but after four years in the past will he be ready and willing to do all of that over again?

The book reminded me a lot of the first two episodes of season 5 of “Quantum Leap” which addressed the same issue when Sam leaped into Lee Harvey Oswald (although in the afterword King mentions he tried to write “11/22/63” back in 1972 but shelved it). As King is wont to do, there are quite a few references to his other books: Jake spends some time in Derry, Maine, where he meets Bev and Richie shortly after the events in “IT” (my favorite King novel) and I could be wrong but I think the recurring red and white Plymouth Fury was a nod to “Christine.” And in a real-life example of how the past harmonizes, on April 10 I was reading about Jake attempting to confirm if Oswald was behind the assassination attempt on General Edwin Walker, 49 years to the day after the real thing.

Considering how much Stephen King I’ve read in the past, it’s hard to believe that it’s been at least four years (when I started WIJFR posts on my blog) since I last read one. With yet another Dark Tower novel just released, it might be time to finally finish that series. First, though, I think I’ll go “Under the Dome.”

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