Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette India Rs 895/-)
This is a big book. A heavy book. But, as any Stephen King fan knows, that is not going to daunt anyone who is determined to read it through. As the date suggests, the book is about the day that JFK was killed, the date being iconic in the memory of most Americans, with where were you when you heard about JFK still being played amongst Americans of that generation.
The tale seems intriguing enough, a divorced school teacher is taken to a rabbithole in time, by a friend who owns a diner which is closing up, stepping through which, he can land back in 1958. No matter how much time he spends down in the 1958 world, he comes back exactly 2 minutes later into the present day. Time travel handled many times by authors and film makers, the most famous recent example being that of The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, it was fascinating to see how a master like King would handle the premise. Does he disappoint? Not really. My primary complaint with this book, was it’s pace. It dragged in bits. The research to set the protagonist back into the late ’50s US is extensive and sadly, it shows.
Nonetheless, having got that out of the way 11.22.63 is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in recent times. No, there is none of the obvert horror that one seems to associate with King, despite his gentler books like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
King handles the paradox of time travel masterfully, allowing the reader no chance, no leeway to question the details.
Jake Epping steps through a wormhole in time in the pantry of his local diner and finds he can go back to the past, change events and emerge none the worse for wear. He then is convinced by Al, the dying owner of the diner to go back into time, track Lee Harvey Oswald, figure out if he really was responsible for assassinating JFK and if so, to stop him.
Jake becomes George Amberson, an alternate identity when he goes through the rabbithole, gets a job as a teacher at a local school, falls in love with a divorced librarian, with an unhinged husband on the mission for retribution.
What is fascinating, and which makes the entire George Amberson story worthwhile is the reconstruction of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life before the moment that changed the history of America, and probably the world. It is the attention to detail, the detailed building up of character and setting, and the love for creating of mood that shows the mastery of the author.
Honest confession, I flicked through many pages where it just dragged, but I did persevere till the end.
If you have read James Ellroy on the JFK assassination and enjoyed it, this might be one of those novels that you will enjoy too. But only read this if you are a King fan, or if you have a regard for the skill of writing. If you’re looking for fastpaced, thriller kind of fiction this is not the book for you. As for me, I loved it. Purely because the way King writes is beautiful enough to make one sigh in pleasure.