11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King read by Craig Wasson
Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.
President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
I’ve read enough Stephen King books to be called a fan. I mean, I keep going back so that has to mean something. But it’s more like I just somehow keep intersecting his catalog at some point in every decade or something. I read three or four books in one, began The Dark Tower series in another, waited like everybody else for those to start up again, and now I’m poking around his newer stuff.
I chose this one because, well, come on: it’s a fantastic premise. Going back in time to prevent some event is a genre staple. The Kennedy assassination is almost holy for my parents’ generation. They’re made for one another.
But it’s not the idea itself that makes a book. It’s the execution. Right from the start you understand that this isn’t some grand adventure taken on by an organized conspiracy. It’s not The Terminator. It’s solidly grounded in the lives of two men, one of whom may have been wearing away the fabric of spacetime and the other practically conscripted into a role that’s difficult for him to refuse.
It’s a personal story, full of personal struggle and intimate detail. It’s written almost as a memoir. However, as in many the later King books I’ve read, there’s an element of ritual, of oral storytelling, to it as well. The repetition of phrases framing the repetition of patterns forming a reverberation chamber for meaning.
It’s especially fun in 11/22/63 because the protagonist is an English teacher. Having a genre savvy hero looking for meaning and recognizing the patterns and ostensibly writing about it could be heavy handed, I suppose. But here it allows the rich detail and intense research to create a believable world populated by authentic characters to transport the reader through time.
The audio is solid. The volume is such that the book can be listened to without headphones in an environment with moderate noise pollution. Craig Wasson makes you feel the frustrations, determination, and occasional joy of Jake Epping as he grapples with the past, the future, and the desire for justice. I’m almost afraid to listen to him read anything else, lest it diminish the folksy atmosphere of 11/22/63.
If you’re familiar with The Dark Tower and the shared universe of King’s books, you’ll note several nods. But of course they’re more than simply that. This is part of that story, too. The actions taken here are complicit in the world moving on. You don’t need to know this. Might miss it anyway. But implication is wonderful.
11/22/63 is a great entry in the annals of time travel fiction. It maintains tension throughout what is essentially a five year waiting game. And it keeps the stakes both grand, the fate of the world, and personal, integrity and righteousness,
Recommended for fans of “The Skull”, Twelve Monkeys, and Hamlet.