Wednesday, January 11, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King readalong parts 1 - 3

I've been reading a lot of good things about 11/22/63, and it came highly recommended. It was, therefore, the only book I made sure to specifically ask for as a Christmas present, so I could participate in the readalong. I could've put myself on the library waiting list, but lots of other people have also heard what a good book this is.

I know very little of the JFK assassination, other than that my parents were old enough to remember exactly where they were when they heard about it. I've taken American history courses and listened to some politics, so I know the event and some of its ramifications, but it's not what I'd call an area of interest.

King quickly establishes, though, why the reader should care that the main character, Mr. Jake Epping of Lisbon Falls, Maine, succeeds at his task. Without ever dropping into “as you know, Bob” dialogue, we're given an explanation of all the things Kennedy's survival might have meant for history, in a way us non-history-buffs can appreciate, and hopefully in a way that history buffs don't feel whacked over the head.

The time travel premise and the motivation of saving JFK from Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet is given early in the story, and very little of the narrative is wasted on a modern day with which readers are familiar. Instead, King jumps into the wonder reminiscent of Marty McFly's when confronted with a cleaner, more polite, more innocent society.

The sinister elements are low-key, for King. They're personified initially in the Yellow Card Man, a drunk who recognizes that there's something odd about the appearance of a person from the future, and who seems affected by future events, somehow. When Jake (going by George Amberson) gets to Derry, Maine, those elements are dialed up significantly, because he's in the Derry that just survived It. He meets two of the children who had a hand in banishing the evil, however temporarily. His visit sheds light on the nature of Derry, contrasting it with a world much kinder and more trusting.

The reader is relieved when George escapes Derry, then plunged into uncertainty when his arrival to Dallas reveals that it has a similar feel of creeping evil. Perhaps it's conjured only by time's resistance to change, but George makes a strong case that they're both infested with something that makes them evil.

There are a lot of the things that I like about Stephen King's writing. I love that his works are often tied together, revealing a deeper appreciation for his avid readers. In addition to Derry, the number 19, established in the Dark Tower books as significant, shows up frequently.  Even more, though, I love the sense that his stories are simply a matter of tapping into something deeper than himself. George sometimes speaks to the reader during his narration, explaining that the book we hold consists of the words he wrote, and he's in the middle of writing another book, The Murder Place, which is about Derry with the serial numbers filed off. It has a killer clown, and children die horribly, just as in It, implying that he actually wrote It.

So far, I'm finding this a tight, suspenseful read, with plenty of mystery to keep me reading. I care about whether George/Jake succeeds in saving JFK's life, but I also care about what happens along the way, and whether some early questions are even answered. For instance, I want to know why the Yellow Card Man was affected the way he was. I want to know why the time portal always sends a person back to an exact moment in 1958. I want to know how time will try to stop George from changing a watershed moment in history. I want to know how he'll get past those obstacles, and whether he'll return to modern day. I want to know if he saved Harry Dunning, the janitor at the heart of his reasons for agreeing to go back in the first place. I want to know if we get any other of Stephen King's stories intersecting with this one.

I'm on page 353 of the hardcover version right now; in most books, I'd be finished by now. It's just another of the things I love about Stephen King's writing – he makes long reads go fast.

Further reading from the readalong crew:

8 comments:

  1. It makes me wish I'd read more of King's catalogue to have been able to catch the references you mentioned! Kudos on the BTTF reference as well.

    You touched on one of the things I'm enjoying most about the book but didn't mention. I care about seeing whether JFK's life is spared, but I love that I'm not impatient to see the book make its way to that conclusion. At no point have I felt like the side stories and character development were insignificant or irrelevant- rather, the opposite. I've found myself mentally crossing my fingers that some characters reappear later either physically or mentally as a "voice of reason" for Jake, so to speak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When he's "on," King writes a book two to four times as long as most on the shelf, and makes it feel like it went twice as quickly. He has a sense of pacing and tension so innate it's like a magic power.

      I've found it well worth the time to read most of what he's written, but then, I've been reading his stuff since I was in fifth grade. I have a bit of a head start. If you're intrigued by the notion of a town drawing evil to it, and you're okay with being afraid of your bathroom for a while, you could start with It. My personal favorite of Stephen King's books is Firestarter. Any of his short story collections are also a good investment.

      Delete
  2. oh wow, this is my first King read, and i had no idea i was missing some inside scoop. that's so interesting about the plot of "the murder place" being the plot of "It."

    im intrigued by the past not wanting to be changed. it makes me feel like one of those dreams where you're trying to run or swim, but you're bogged down and something's holding you back. i'm curious to see what he discovers about LHO and how he will attempt to prevent the crime and how time will try to prevent him stopping it.

    as usual, while i am intrigued with the JFK thing and the significance of the yellow card man, i'm most intrigued by his personal life.... his daily living, finding meaning in his 1950s life... finding love?

    and i have absolutely no idea how this will end up... will he stay in the past or return to the future. will he conclude his narrative account that we are reading in 2011 or 1963?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've read a bit farther, and it seems those are going to be the questions that pull me along to the end. He keeps teasing us along, giving Jake reasons to stay, then hinting that he'll lose them.

      Delete
  3. I definitely have the same questions you do! And you are right - Stephen King has a way of making a huge read go by very quickly. I'm a fan of SK, and 11/22/63 will probably end up as one of my very favorites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You and me both. Top 5, at the very least. :)

      Delete
  4. I wonder how the third version of Harry Dunning's life will turn out, but I don't feel comfortable calling it a 'saving.' Sure, Jake 'saved' him from losing his mother and siblings at the hands of his father. We already know that the first 'saving' got him killed in Vietnam, something that would have never happened because of his previous leg injury. Jake doesn't know what 'saving' Harry and his family really means for them in the long run. It's just a temporary save. It broke my heart when Ellen Dunning cussed out Jake over her brother's angel who let him die in Vietnam. Jake's trying to play God without God's knowledge. It's a tough gig with a lot of ramifications. I may envy his ability to explore another time, but I don't envy his responsibilities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's just it. He did save that aspect of Harry's life, but, the first time, he made it worse. Did the alterations make a difference, or did he make it even worse? I can't help but wonder. The woman in the wheelchair Al "saved" didn't have a miraculously awesome life because of that one change.

      I'm starting to wonder if the theme of 11/22/63 isn't that things happen for a reason, and that changing them makes things worse.

      Delete