Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Review of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

I have mixed feelings about Stephen King's 11.22.63. It's a "what if?" novel - what if JFK was never assassinated, in this case. This is a fascinating idea for a novel, so kudos to King for that.

Here's the blurb of the novel:

"King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, 2011, on a fascinating journey back to 1958 - from a world of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, 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."

Would you actually want to change the negative events that have happened to you? Everything that we have ever experienced, from the smallest to the largest event, has shaped our present in subtle ways. There are things from my past that I would rather had not happened, but I'm happy with who I am now. I'm happy and healthy. Attempting to change the past seems too much like playing God to me. 

On that point, the rough-looking "Card Man" (of various colours) reminds me of the tramp always seen holding signs with guidance on in Bruce Almighty. In this film, the tramp turns out to be God, and in 11.22.63, the Card Man/wino is the all-knowing man of conscience and guidance. Appearance isn't always as it seems.

Also, meddling with the past doesn't appear at all advantageous to our characters. *SPOILERS FROM NOW ON!* Al's life ends through intentional overdose rather than his health problems, and the first Card Man's throat is fatally cut. The card itself is a representation of mental degradation bridging from alterations to the past. If everyone meddled with the past, is the Card Man right in saying that reality would fail to exist? It's mind-boggling stuff. 

There is a provoking suggestion by the narrator that you cannot help but consider after reading 11.22.63: were 9/11 and the Boxing Day tsunami caused by disturbances to the time continuum? Perhaps that's too much to think about on a sunny Tuesday evening. Also, how can we be sure that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't travel back in time through the "rabbit hole"? Perhaps he actually had a heart - yes, it seems unlikely - and was on a mission akin to Jake Epping's, having to assassinate JFK for the sake of humankind. 

The dystopian, quasi-apocalyptic present that Jake returns to makes this possibility plausible, and JFK's assassination appear somehow necessary. Because JFK was never assassinated, LBJ never became president, and therefore there was no civil rights movement, resulting in race riots. The world described is practically hell on earth - there's violence, hate, and destruction on all sides. Did Stephen King come to such a description in order to make us appreciate our current world more? Compared with his written alternative, the modern world appears almost utopian. 

The end was a bit Murakami-esque (e.g. I had no idea what the correct interpretation was). Does Jake stay in the past with Sadie, or does he just enjoy that one dance, for old times sake? The fact that she remembers Jake creates a whole lot more for the reader to think about. It's also a reason to re-consider your own recent deja-vu moments! 

I said at the start of this post that I have mixed feelings about this novel. The main issue I have is that Sadie's crazy ex (the guy with the broom) has OCD, and it seems implied that this is the reason for his insane actions. Not that he's a psychopath, perhaps? But on the whole, if you want a book to make you question what you presumed to be secure knowledge and consider the possibility of the impossible, I hope you'll enjoy this. Also, history nerds look no further!

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