Because it’s his last name, but also because he is the king of genre fiction.
I have just finished 11-22-63, King’s novel about a man who time travels back to stop the assassination of JFK. And it’s all the more a master stroke for how awful that description makes it sound. As a matter of fact, I avoided this book for quite some time just because I couldn’t stand the idea of reading yet another novel lionizing JFK. Baby Boomers have a tendency to believe that if JFK had survived, the 60s would have been one long Summer of Love. I finally read it because I ran out of other things to read. That’s how little enthusiasm I felt for the subject matter.
I mean, come on, how many times have we heard this story? Someone zips back to Dallas on the day of the assassination, intercepts Oswald at the last second and then everything’s all better! Yay! Camelot extends out into infinity.
But that’s what makes King different. 11-22-63 isn’t about time travel. It’s not about saving Kennedy. It’s the story of a man’s journey.
Slightly Spoilery stuff follows. It’s nothing you wouldn’t have gotten from reviews but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, skip down to where it says, “Spoilers End.”
First off, King sets up the time travel device as a naturally occurring portal that takes you back to the same moment in 1958 every time you go through. Think of the brilliance of this device. It means that if you go back to save JFK, you have to live in the past for five years before you can do anything about it. This gives the flow of time plenty of opportunities to mess with you before you mess with it.
Secondly, every time you go through the portal time does a complete reset. Everything you did on your previous trip is nullified as if you hadn’t gone through at all. If you screw up your rescue attempt, you have to go through everything all over again for five more years to get a second chance.
Think about how much living you do in five years.
The most compelling thing about a good King novel is the lead character and Jake Epping is one of his best – up there with Stuart Redman and Mike Noonan. What’s gripping about 11-22-63 isn’t time travel or Kennedy, it’s the journey that you take with Jake Epping. And it’s a wonderful journey, sad and sweet and worth experiencing more than once. Highly recommended.