Monday, February 20, 2012

A Presidents Day Post and Book Review


Aside from checking my mailbox and being disappointed with no mail, but feeling ecstatic about the lack of bills, I feel I should address Presidents Day/Washington's Birthday. I am not entirely sure how one should observe a federal holiday like this--my workday progresses as normal. So, in honor of JFK (sorry Lincoln and Washington), here is a little review of Stephen King's 11/22/63.

Here is the link to the New York Times Book Review. They do a better job summarizing the novel without giving away the plot than I could in this small space.

Let me start by saying that I do not read a lot of science fiction and I have never read anything by Stephen King. I do, however, love historical fiction. When I heard about the new Stephen King novel where a contemporary man, Jake Epping, goes back in time from 2011 to 1958-1963 and attempts to stop the assassination of JFK, I was sold. I also saw King on the Today show and what he said resonated with me. King didn't see Lee Harvey Oswald as a major mastermind with limitless resources, he was essentially an eccentric man who got lucky--he worked on Kennedy's motorcade route in Dallas. King was fascinated by how one man and a set of lucky breaks could change history so drastically. Essentially, King was interested in the "what ifs" of history.

The rabbit hole that Jake uses to travel to the past always brings him to 1958. No matter, how long he lives in the past, only 2 minutes of present time go by (although Jake ages appropriately). Because Jake must begin in 1958, he has quite a bit of time in the past before the assassination. Jake uses his time to rescue a few other people who have suffered on account of the past.

There are three different narrative threads in the past: 1. Derry, Maine, where Jake tries to save a future student from a horrific event. 2. Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas and Jake's attempt the doubt of who the shooter was and stop Oswald. 3. In Jodie, Texas where Jake attempts to live a normal life in a small town as an English teacher. Needless to say, here he falls in love.

I loved reading about Jake's time in Jodie. Jake is Mr. George Amberson, a novelist who teaches (his true passion), writes, dates the new librarian, and just lives the life. Although he lives within the confines of early 1960s, the plot and dialogue defies the stereotypes of the time. For example, Mimi, the former librarian, interviews Jake and asks his opinion on JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Historically, the novel was often banned from schools and libraries. Jake carefully straddles two time periods when he praises the book but advocates for who checks it out from the library to be closely watched. This wins Mimi over--she also wants the book to be available--like all books--but can't say so because of the Texas 1960s culture.

What King does so well is to weave the three (or 4 if you count 2011) plots together--they harmonize. Throughout the plot, moments that appear as coincidences are really harmonies in the past. The question, as Jake aka George Amberson, continues to live in and change the past, is whether there are supposed to be harmonies. Is Jake really supposed to change the past--and if he can't change it, can he simply live in the past? Of course, this post is a little cryptic. The novel is so plot driven that it is hard to write concretely about its contents without giving away the plot--and I think to experience it fully you have to let the narrative unravel.

This is a long novel. I purchased it on my iPad and it was 1,000 pages. However, it was a page turner that makes you question linear history, fall in love with the characters, laugh, cry, wish JFK to be saved and wish that JFK is not saved. I am still not sure I buy the mechanics of the time-travel premise, but I suspended my disbelief. King did his homework and I would thoroughly recommend this novel despite my disjointed review. Please let me know if you have read it--I would love to chat about it.