King of the Dark Episode 13: Time Travel and 11/22/63

Welcome back to King of the Dark, our special series on the B&N Podcast, celebrating and exploring the fictional worlds of Stephen King. Every week Liz Braswell and Louis Peitzman join Bill Tipper as they read King’s most fascinating, enduring, and sometimes enigmatic creations. In this episode we’ve arrived at 2011’s bestselling 11/22/63 — a take on the perennial question: if you could travel back in time and change one thing, what would it be? In 11/22/63, King wraps his imagination around the assassination of JFK and creates an almost literal doorway into the past. The result is a love letter to midcentury America and King’s unique twist on an enduring theme in speculative fiction. In this episode, Liz, Louis and Bill talk about 11/22/63‘s link between domestic abuse and political violence, the story’s surprising connection with the world of It, and one character’s ingenious use of time travel to keep his diner open.

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In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

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