11.22.63 by Stephen King (Hodder and Stoughton) The date in the title of Stephen King’s latest blockbuster relates to the date that President Jack Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The basic premise of this entertaining novel is that English teacher Jake Epping is told by his friend Al, who runs the local diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, that his premises includes a time portal that can take him back to a specific date in 1958.
Jake does not believe him until he steps into Al’s storeroom and then finds himself back in a time when root beer and Lindy Hopping were all the rage.
It seems that each time a person visits the past it resets itself. Al has been back to 1958 many times, buying the same cheap meat and bringing it back to the present day to sell to his customers, who do not realise the reason why he can offer such cut-price meals. The system works because each time Al goes back to 1958 the people he meets do not realise they have net him before.
But Al has decided he wants to use the time portal to make changes in the past. Specifically he wants to try to save President Kennedy from being shot in 1963. Unfortunately Al has developed cancer during an extended stay in the past and so he urges Jake to take up his campaign.
Jake reluctantly agrees and in the first half of this very long (734 pages) book he concentrates on saving the lives of a family he knows were murdered in the past to see whether, in fact, it is possible to change the past.
And this is where the book reveals a clever concept, Because in King’s novel, the past does not want to be changed and throws all kinds of obstacles in Jake’s path – everything from his car breaking down, and becoming violently ill.
There is also a good love story between Jake and teacher Sadie Dunhill, which gives this book echoes of The Time Traveller’s Wife.
When Jake starts tracking Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s killer, the novel gets a little bogged down in historical detail. But there is an exciting denoument on November 22 1963 and an unexpected and devastating time travel twist at the end.
There are some super little moments in this book, Jake returns to the past and to a store where he bought a blue shirt. The sales assistant comments that he must like that type of shirt as he is wearing a similar one. Jake realises that, in fact, the shirt he is wearing is exactly the same one as he is now buying. He bought it during a visit to the store on his previous visit to the past and then took it back to the present day with him!
It’s ingenious devices like that that help to make this novel so much fun.