I’ll be honest here and state that the premise of this book didn’t really grab me when I first read a blurb. I was born several years after the assassination of JFK and missed the whole Camelot era of the Kennedy’s and can only see them as tragic figures. I don’t share those nostalgic feelings for the era and almost passed on this book. But then I saw it at my library as an unabridged audiobook and grabbed it because I’ll read anything on audio. And besides, I usually dig King’s work. When I started this I remembered why. The man has mad storytelling skills. Immediately I was taken back to that other strange-to-me era, learning a good number of things and not once did I regret spending a good chunk of my week listening to 11/22/63.
Jake is a likable high school English teacher who is given the secret to a “rabbit hole” that allows him to go back in time and attempt to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He is told this secret by his dying friend Al and seeing as Al has aged decades overnight he’s apt to believe him, crazy as it all sounds. But before he sets off to save the world he decides on a trial run. Al says he’ll be gone only 2 minutes of 2011 time, no matter how long he stay in the past, so he decides to test it out by saving a former student from a heart-wrenching, life-altering event. Returning to 2011 he discovers the changes stuck but things don’t work out quite as he planned. Determined to fix things and this time save Kennedy, he steps back through the rabbit hole again.
This bulk of the rest of book takes place in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as Jake, now George, bides his time for that fateful date, making friends, changing lives, finding love and causing ripples with every move he makes. The past, George learns, doesn’t take kindly to changes and terrible things happen to him and those he grows to love whenever he makes a big move and they’re often described in all their grisly, gory glory. It was a grueling, heartbreaking read but also warm and funny and one where you root for the main character to win all the way through.
King does a fabulous job with his characters (as always) but it’s his setting as much as his people that truly pop out of the book and make it all come alive. The research must’ve been exhausting and though I can’t vouch for its accuracy (and surely he fudged some of it), I can say I was definitely transported to another time as I listened to the narrator expertly spin King’s tale of time-travel, hope, loss, love and desperation. If you can, I highly recommend “reading” it this way, the narration is fabulous (no monotonous narrator here) and brings it all to vivid life. I’m not going to lie, this book is long and a mite too long-winded, especially towards the middle as George goes about his daily business and follows mean, boring Lee Harvey Oswald around, but the thought of stopping it for something else never crossed my mind. This is a book I needed to finish because I cared so deeply about Jake/George and Sadie and all of their friends. It’s good stuff!