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What I’m Reading: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

POSTED BY prbythebook ON November 21, 2013

11-22-63by Elaine Krackau, Publicist, @elainekrackau

Ever wish you could change history? Go back in time and erase a horrific event? As we observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK this week, we might ask the question – what if Lee Harvey Oswald had missed? What if JFK was still alive?

These are the exact questions posed in Stephen King’s novel titled 11/22/63, a novel that has taken its place among my top 5 reads ever. Jake Epping is a high school English teacher in modern-day Lisbon Falls, Maine who forms a friendship with Al Templeton, the owner of the town diner. This is not your average diner, though. Al has discovered a portal in the back pantry that leads to the past – September 8, 1958, to be exact. Al is terminally ill and has a dying wish—he wants Jake to go back in time and prevent Oswald from killing the president. He believes that doing so would prevent the Vietnam War and subsequent tragedies like Martin Luther King Jr’s death. He also wants to figure out whether Oswald acted alone, despite all the conspiracy theories.

You will have to overlook the fact that Jake is not skeptical enough of this “rabbit hole” and is pretty willing to give it a whirl—to drop everything and travel back in time. Most of us would need much more convincing! But Jake is divorced, lonely and figures he can use his time wisely and stop some other, more personal events while he’s there (for one such event, King revisits the town of Derry, Maine, where his novel It takes place).

So Jake goes. And King transports us effortlessly into 1950s & 1960s America. We meet Oswald early on and gain insight into him, his family and his associates and their activities prior to that fateful day. And to make matters even more complicated, Jake falls in love in 1958 and works hard to hide the fact that he’s from the future (“Where would you like to eat, Jake?” “Well, let me pull up Yelp on my cell phone while you Google, uh, nevermind ……”).

The research that went into this novel is astounding. From Wikipedia: King and longtime researcher Russ Dorr prepared for the novel by reading many historical documents and newspaper archives from the period, looking at clothing and appliance ads, sports scores and television listings. The book contains detailed minutiae such as the 1958 price of a pint of root beer (10 cents) or a haircut (40 cents). King and Dorr traveled to Dallas, where they visited Oswald’s apartment building (now a private residence), found the home of Gen. Edwin Walker (a target of an assassination attempt by Oswald), and had a private tour of the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository. King studied various conspiracy theories, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone. King met with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, an assistant to Lyndon B. Johnson, and used some of her ideas of worst-case political scenarios in the absence of Kennedy’s assassination.

So the question remains. What would happen if JFK had survived the assassination attempt that day? Would we have still had the Vietnam War? What about race riots? Would we have had a better future? What is the price of changing the past? You think it might be better, but then again – maybe not.

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