The first Stephen King book I read, 11.22.63 has evoked emotions that not many other books have…
My mum has always said “I don’t know how you can read the same book twice”. I’ve never understood how she couldn’t. Each time you read a book, be it the second or the seventh, you discover new words, new storylines. You infer things in a way which differs from the first, in a way that reflects the growing up or mental development you have personally experienced. Each time I re-read a book, it’s a new story.
I first read 11.22.63 when I was 14. Again when I was 18. Both times, I visualised the same things when I read it, saw the same streets and envisioned the characters the same way. I have always considered it one of my favourites, and then I read it again at the age of 21. Streets suddenly became their own, each house the character moving into having its own characteristics. Words and catchphrases made more sense, and emotions were felt stronger than before.
11.22.63 is a book about time travel, sacrifice, bravery and romance. But not in your typical, hero/save the day/marries the princess kind of way. It’s the way that makes your gut clench and a hiss of breath escape your lips. You find yourself wincing, and longing for the happy ending which inevitably cannot be (after all, it’s Stephen King).
Jake Epping is a high school teacher from Maine. With an alcoholic ex-wife, his life is pretty standard (mundane if anything). That’s when he reads an essay, submitted by one of his night school students – caretaker Harry Dunning. This particular essay moves him in a way that no other thing has – Jake was never really what you’d call a crying man.
We digress – where Jake lives is a classic American diner – Al’s Diner. Jake sometimes visits this diner, when one day, Al seems to have aged 20 years; hair greying and barely able to stand on two feet. Jake is bemused – how can one go from being fairly fit and healthy go knocking on death’s door? That’s when Al drops the bombshell – he travelled back to 1958 to save President JFK. Impossible right? However Al couldn’t complete the mission – time caught up and he couldn’t see it through to 1963. He asks the impossible from Jake – he asks him to go down the rabbit hole concealed downstairs in his Diner and save the president. Jake, of course, thinks he’s barking. However Al begins telling him about his trips, how each journey, no matter how long you stay down the rabbit hole, will only last all but 2 minutes in 2011 present day. He explains that each time you go down is a reset, which is where Al’s been purchasing all of his ingredients for his Diner.
This story follows Jake Epping as he travels down the rabbit hole (after much consideration and hesitation) and journey’s life in 1958. Following the story of Lee Harvey Oswald, the infamous 1963 shooter.
Jake has the advantage of coming from the future on his side, meaning any bet he places he will win. But this eventually lands him in trouble – escaping by the skin of his teeth.
Now, I’m not going to spell out the whole plot here as I urge you to read it.
All in all, this book made me feel things. I fell in love with the relationship between Jake and Sadie (the young librarian that quite literally fell into his arms). The struggle of Sadie’s past life and Jake (alias George Amberson) trying to conceal his true identity from Sadie yet remain true to her. The struggle between the life he has made as a substitute teacher in the past, and the real reason he dived back into time.
Sadie is by far my favourite character. Her determination to fight against her past experiences and trust Jake/George are admirable – it can’t be easy to trust somebody who is doing some pretty shady stuff, disappearing here and there and not being able to say where he’s going. It’s enough to drive anyone insane. But she stuck by, despite the obstacles that life threw up – the past doesn’t want to be changed…
I feel like the ending was a little – cliche. Although it wasn’t the happy ending that you’d expect (and don’t get me wrong the last few pages brought a genuine tear to my eye) I feel as if there were some things that were too good to be true, or just written to make a nice tidy and quick ending (I know time travel isn’t realistic but you know what I mean).
So please, read this book. It still remains as one of my favourites, and I look forward to reading it again in 10 year’s time.
Ren’s rating: 8.5/10
Available from: Amazon, eBAY, most good bookstores