11/22/63

11/22/63

4.4 2624
by Stephen King, Craig Wasson
     
 

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On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps listeners back in time to

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Overview

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Stephen King’s heart-stoppingly dramatic new novel is about a man who travels back in time to prevent the JFK assassination.

Following his massively successful novel Under the Dome, King sweeps listeners back in time to another moment—a real life moment—when everything went wrong: the JFK assassination. And he introduces listeners to a character who has the power to change the course of history.

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night fifty years ago when his father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely impossible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jack’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Audio
In this audio edition of King’s latest novel, which uses time travel to re-examine the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, both the author and narrator Craig Wasson deliver the goods. In what proves to be an adventurous, thrilling, thought-provoking, and romantic story, English teacher Jake Epping travels back in time and works to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating Kennedy. Wasson embodies the good-natured and honorable Epping, while creating accents and speech patterns for the supporting cast, capturing the twang of smalltown Texas high school students, Marina Oswald’s struggle with the English language, and Kennedy’s Boston accent, which the narrator doesn’t overdo.Wasson is even able to provide a credible voice for George de Mohrenschildt, a friend (and possible co-conspirator) of Oswald who speaks English and Russian with a German accent.The audiobook includes an afterword featuring King discussing the book and a little-known vignette his research turned upabout Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby. A Scribner hardcover. (Nov.)
The Washington Post
…a tale richly layered with the pleasures we've come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story…We are…reminded again that in Stephen King, we have proof that (as JFK himself once put it) "life is unfair." He is not only as famous and wealthy a writer as any of his time; his work suggests that if a time traveler found a portal to the 22nd ­century and looked for the authors of today still being read tomorrow, Stephen King would be one of them.
—Jeff Greenfield
The New York Times Book Review
11/22/63 is a meditation on memory, love, loss, free will and necessity. It's a blunderbuss of a book, rife with answers to questions: Can one man make a difference? Can history be changed, or does it snap back on itself like a rubber band? Does love conquer all? (The big stuff)…It all adds up to one of the best time-travel stories since H. G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It's romantic about the real possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else.
—Errol Morris
The New York Times
King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery…The pages of 11/22/63 fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book's fanciest trick.
—Janet Maslin
Publishers Weekly
High school English teacher Jake Epping has his work cut out for him in King’s entertaining SF romantic thriller. Al Templeton, the proprietor of Al’s Diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, has discovered a temporal “rabbit hole” in the diner’s storage room that leads to a point in the past—11:58 a.m. September 9, 1958, to be precise. Each time you go through the rabbit hole, according to Al, only two minutes have elapsed when you return to 2011, no matter how long your stay; furthermore, history resets itself each time you return to that morning 53 years ago. Al persuades Jake to take a brief, exploratory trip through the rabbit hole into 1958 Lisbon Falls. After Jake’s return, a suddenly older and sick-looking Al confesses that he spent several years in this bygone world, in an effort to prevent President Kennedy’s assassination, but because he contracted lung cancer, he was unable to fulfill his history-changing mission. “You can go back, and you can stop” the assassination, he tells Jake. Jake, with only an alcoholic ex-wife by way of family, is inclined to honor his dying friend’s request to save JFK, but he also has a personal reason to venture into the past. A night school student of his, school janitor Harry Dunning, recently turned in an autobiographical essay describing how on Halloween night 1958 Dunning’s father took a hammer to Dunning’s mother and other family members with, in some cases, fatal results. An attempt to head off this smaller tragedy provides a test case for Jake, to see if he can alter the past for the better. Hundreds of pages later, once over the initial hurdles, Jake is working under a pseudonym as a high school teacher in Jodie, Tex., an idyllic community north of Dallas. Knowing who’s going to win sporting events like the World Series comes in handy when he’s short of funds, though this ability to foretell the future turns out to have a downside. Indeed, the past, as Jake discovers to his peril, has an uncanny, sometimes violent way of resisting change, of putting obstacles in the way of anyone who dares fiddle with it. The author of Carrie knows well how to spice the action with horrific shivers. In Jodie, Jake meets a fellow teacher, Sadie Dunhill, who’s estranged from her husband, a religious fanatic with serious sexual hangups. Jake and Sadie fall in love, but their relationship has its difficulties, not least because Jake is reluctant to tell Sadie his real identity or reason for being in Texas. Clearly inspired by Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, King smoothly blends their romance into the main story line, setting up the bittersweet ending that’s as apt as it is surprising. He also does a fine job evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The root beer even tastes better back then. By early 1963, Jake is zeroing in on a certain former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and has recently returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife. Relying on Al’s judgment, Jake is only about 75% sure that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot JFK, so he spends much time trying to ascertain whether Oswald is part of a conspiracy. Jake admits to not having researched the Kennedy assassination while still in 2011 Maine. If he had, he might’ve given up after concluding that it would be hopeless to try to stop, say, the Mafia, or the CIA, or Vice President Johnson from killing Kennedy. On the other hand, the plot would’ve been a lot less interesting if Jake, convinced on entering the past that Oswald was the sole gunman, felt compelled to eliminate Oswald long before that pathetic loser settled into his sniper’s nest in the Texas School Book Depository, toward which Jake winds up racing on the morning of November 22, 1963. In an afterword, King puts the probability that Oswald acted alone at “ninety-eight percent, maybe even ninety-nine.” “It is very, very difficult for a reasonable person to believe otherwise,” he adds. King cites several major books he consulted, but omits what I consider the definitive tome on the subject, Vincent Bugliosi’s Edgar-winning Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Norton, 2007). Bugliosi, who makes an overwhelming case in my view that the Warren Commission essentially got it right, covers the same ground as a book King does mention, Gerald Posner’s Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Random, 2003), then goes on to destroy the arguments of the conspiracy theorists, with wit and ridicule as weapons. Of course, there will always be intelligent and otherwise reasonable people, like PW’s anonymous reviewer of Reclaiming History and King’s wife, novelist Tabitha King (a life-long “contrarian,” King tells us), who side with the host of cranks emotionally invested in believing Oswald was the patsy he claimed. Those folks may have a problem with this suspenseful time-travel epic, but the rest of us will happily follow well-meaning, good-hearted Jake Epping, the anti-Oswald if you will, on his quixotic quest. Peter Cannon is PW’s Mystery/Thriller reviews editor.
Library Journal
In King's latest, his first full-length novel since 2009's Under the Dome, the horror master ventures into sf. Maine restaurant owner Al tells high school English teacher Jake Epping that there's a time portal to the year 1958 in his diner. Al has terminal cancer and asks Jake to grant his dying wish: go back in time and prevent the 1963 assassination of JFK. Jake's travels take him first to Derry, ME—the fictional (and creepy) setting of King's 1986 blockbuster It—to try to stop the horrific 1958 murder of a family. Later, he heads to Texas, where he bides his time—teaching in a small town, where he falls for school librarian Sadie Dunhill—and keeps tabs on the thuggish Lee Harvey Oswald. It all leads to an inevitable climax at the Book Depository and an outcome that changes American history. VERDICT Though this hefty novel starts strong, diving energetically into the story and savoring the possibilities of time travel, the middle drags a bit—particularly during Jake's small-town life in Texas. Still, King remains an excellent storyteller, and his evocation of mid-20th-century America is deft. Alternate-history buffs will especially enjoy the twist ending. Film rights have been optioned by Jonathan Demme (of Silence of the Lambs fame). [See Prepub Alert, 5/23/11.]—David Rapp, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
King (Under the Dome, 2009, etc.) adds counterfactual historian to his list of occupations. Well, not exactly: The author is really turning in a sturdy, customarily massive exercise in time travel that just happens to involve the possibility of altering history. Didn't Star Trek tell us not to do that? Yes, but no matter: Up in his beloved Maine, which he celebrates eloquently here ("For the first time since I'd topped that rise on Route 7 and saw Dery hulking on the west bank of the Kenduskeag, I was happy"), King follows his own rules. In this romp, Jake Epping, a high-school English teacher (vintage King, that detail), slowly comes to see the opportunity to alter the fate of a friend who, in one reality, is hale and hearty but in another dying of cancer, no thanks to a lifetime of puffing unfiltered cigarettes. Epping discovers a time portal tucked away in a storeroom--don't ask why there--and zips back to 1958, where not just his friend but practically everyone including the family pets smokes: "I unrolled my window to get away from the cigarette smog a little and watched a different world roll by." A different world indeed: In this one, Jake, a sort of sad sack back in Reality 1, finds love and a new identity in Reality 2. Not just that, but he now sees an opportunity to unmake the past by inserting himself into some ugly business involving Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, various representatives of the military-industrial-intelligence complex and JFK in Dallas in the fall of 1963. It would be spoiling things to reveal how things turn out; suffice it to say that any change in Reality 2 will produce a change in Reality 1, not to mention that Oswald may have been a patsy, just as he claimed--or maybe not. King's vision of one outcome of the Kennedy assassination plot reminds us of what might have been--that is, almost certainly a better present than the one in which we're all actually living. "If you want to know what political extremism can lead to," warns King in an afterword, "look at the Zapruder film." Though his scenarios aren't always plausible in strictest terms, King's imagination, as always, yields a most satisfying yarn.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442344280
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication date:
11/08/2011
Edition description:
Unabridged
Pages:
30
Sales rank:
255,287
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 5.96(h) x 2.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

8

On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle—also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano—complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest, things in my life.

9

I came awake with a jerk, hearing someone mutter “Still not too late” under his breath. I realized it was me and shut up.

Sadie murmured some thick protest and turned over in bed. The familiar squeak of the springs locked me in place and time: the Candlewood Bungalows, April 5, 1963. I fumbled my watch from the nightstand and peered at the luminous numbers. It was quarter past two in the morning, which meant it was actually the sixth of April.

Still not too late.

Not too late for what? To back off, to let well enough alone? Or bad enough, come to that? The idea of backing off was attractive, God knew. If I went ahead and things went wrong, this could be my last night with Sadie. Ever.

Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.

True enough. Oswald was going to relocate to New Orleans for awhile after the attempt on the general’s life—another shitty apartment, one I’d already visited—but not for two weeks. That would give me plenty of time to stop his clock. But I sensed it would be a mistake to wait very long. I might find reasons to keep on waiting. The best one was beside me in this bed: long, lovely, and smoothly naked. Maybe she was just another trap laid by the obdurate past, but that didn’t matter, because I loved her. And I could envision a scenario—all too clearly—where I’d have to run after killing Oswald. Run where? Back to Maine, of course. Hoping I could stay ahead of the cops just long enough to get to the rabbit-hole and escape into a future where Sadie Dunhill would be . . . well . . . about eighty years old. If she were alive at all. Given her cigarette habit, that would be like rolling six the hard way.

I got up and went to the window. Only a few of the bungalows were occupied on this early-spring weekend. There was a mud- or manure-splattered pickup truck with a trailer full of what looked like farm implements behind it. An Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. A couple of station wagons. And a two-tone Plymouth Fury. The moon was sliding in and out of thin clouds and it wasn’t possible to make out the color of the car’s lower half by that stuttery light, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, anyway.

I pulled on my pants, undershirt, and shoes. Then I slipped out of the cabin and walked across the courtyard. The chilly air bit at my bed-warm skin, but I barely felt it. Yes, the car was a Fury, and yes, it was white over red, but this one wasn’t from Maine or Arkansas; the plate was Oklahoma, and the decal in the rear window read GO, SOONERS. I peeked in and saw a scatter of textbooks. Some student, maybe headed south to visit his folks on spring break. Or a couple of horny teachers taking advantage of the Candlewood’s liberal guest policy.

Just another not-quite-on-key chime as the past harmonized with itself. I touched the trunk, as I had back in Lisbon Falls, then returned to the bungalow. Sadie had pushed the sheet down to her waist, and when I came in, the draft of cool air woke her up. She sat, holding the sheet over her breasts, then let it drop when she saw it was me.

“Can’t sleep, honey?”

“I had a bad dream and went out for some air.”

“What was it?”

I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my loafers. “Can’t remember.”

“Try. My mother always used to say if you tell your dreams, they won’t come true.”

I got into bed with her wearing nothing but my undershirt. “My mother used to say if you kiss your honey, they won’t come true.”

“Did she actually say that?”

“No.”

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it sounds possible. Let’s try it.”

We tried it.

One thing led to another.

10

Afterward, she lit a cigarette. I lay watching the smoke drift up and turn blue in the occasional moonlight coming through the half-drawn curtains. I’d never leave the curtains that way at Neely Street, I thought. At Neely Street, in my other life, I’m always alone but still careful to close them all the way. Except when I’m peeking, that is. Lurking.

Just then I didn’t like myself very much.

“George?”

I sighed. “That’s not my name.”

“I know.”

I looked at her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying her cigarette guiltlessly, as people do in the Land of Ago. “I don’t have any inside information, if that’s what you’re thinking. But it stands to reason. The rest of your past is made up, after all. And I’m glad. I don’t like George all that much. It’s kind of . . . what’s that word you use sometimes? . . . kind of dorky.”

“How does Jake suit you?”

“As in Jacob?”

“Yes.”

“I like it.” She turned to me. “In the Bible, Jacob wrestled an angel. And you’re wrestling, too. Aren’t you?”

“I suppose I am, but not with an angel.” Although Lee Oswald didn’t make much of a devil, either. I liked George de Mohren—schildt better for the devil role. In the Bible, Satan’s a tempter who makes the offer and then stands aside. I hoped de Mohrenschildt was like that.

Sadie snubbed her cigarette. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were dark. “Are you going to be hurt?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going away? Because if you have to go away, I’m not sure I can stand it. I would have died before I said it when I was there, but Reno was a nightmare. Losing you for good . . .” She shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not sure I could stand that.”

“I want to marry you,” I said.

“My God,” she said softly. “Just when I’m ready to say it’ll never happen, Jake-alias-George says right now.”

“Not right now, but if the next week goes the way I hope it does . . . will you?”

“Of course. But I do have to ask one teensy question.”

“Am I single? Legally single? Is that what you want to know?”

She nodded.

“I am,” I said.

She let out a comic sigh and grinned like a kid. Then she sobered. “Can I help you? Let me help you.”

The thought turned me cold, and she must have seen it. Her lower lip crept into her mouth. She bit down on it with her teeth. “That bad, then,” she said musingly.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m currently close to a big machine full of sharp teeth, and it’s running full speed. I won’t allow you next to me while I’m monkeying with it.”

“When is it?” she asked. “Your . . . I don’t know . . . your date with destiny?”

“Still to be determined.” I had a feeling that I’d said too much already, but since I’d come this far, I decided to go a little farther. “Something’s going to happen this Wednesday night. Something I have to witness. Then I’ll decide.”

“Is there no way I can help you?”

“I don’t think so, honey.”

“If it turns out I can—”

“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate that. And you really will marry me?”

“Now that I know your name is Jake? Of course.”

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