This is not a review, just my thoughts about 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I finished last night, staying up a full 90 minutes past my bedtime on a work night because I could not wait one day longer to see what would happen. Without giving too much away, the novel is a what if? account of the time leading up to the assassination of JFK. With some time travel. Now, based on the title, I knew that I was sitting down to read about Lee Harvey Oswald, but I need to make it clear that I don’t “do” conspiracy theories and I am not particularly interested in the historical documentation and examination of the assassination. Please don’t think that I’m blowing off the importance and weight of that day in US history, it is just a subject I don’t seek out when I am choosing books to read. My attraction to this thick hunk of a novel was due exclusively to the author, and he didn’t disappoint.
Yes, I am from Maine. So is Stephen King. There was a time soon after I moved to Seattle when I would read his books because I was a little homesick and they would mention a place I know from home and I would feel better. Now I read King because he is the hands-down, indisputable MASTER of suspense and story-telling. (But, yes, I got a little excited when he talked about the Moxie store and Route 196 in the opening chapters. I’ve been there!) I love that King’s recent books have moved away from monsters (to a degree) and toward suspenseful social commentary with some supernatural elements tossed in for spice. The books are long, but not in a dense David Foster Wallace way; it is difficult for me to imagine what he could edit out without destroying the plot. Yellow Card Man? The Murder Place? Silent Mike (Holy Mike)? All had a place. I like his phrasing (obdurate past) and jokes (Ozzie Rabbit) and characters. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
I always wonder how King attracts new readers, how to recommend his books to someone who has never read one. In this case, you can’t be intimidated by the size of the novel; you just have to trust me when I say it reads quickly and smoothly. There’s a lot of witty dialogue. Folks who are interested in the history of the event will have to slog through some talk of time travel and murder mysteries to get to the Oswald part, but it was fascinating. It’s hard to say whether King did a good job bringing Oswald to life for the purposes of understanding his motivation to shoot the president, but does it matter if he was perfectly accurate? What matters to me is that he stayed close to the curve while giving us an absorbing, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant reading experience. You better believe I will pick up his next novel, whatever the subject may be.