Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: "11/22/63" by Stephen King

While reading the latest doorstopper of an opus by the ever present and ever prolific Stephen King, I was struck by another kind of defense for those who continually downgrade his importance to American writing simply because of his popularity. To get through any of his books, the great ones especially, such as The Stand and It, and this one 11/22/63, you really have to love reading. Not the kind of reading you do in college, which, despite some student’s said enthusiasm, will always remain a chore, or the kind of reading people do to get smarter and consciously develop thinking skills. I am talking about the kind of reading that serves no purpose, the kind that, while the act itself is taking place, does not seem to be accomplishing anything (although and unconscious process is taking place) and it is driven by the sheer joy of the reading, and the writer’s voice and the act itself do not show their ugly little heads, and its just you and the story, together on a long, perilous, and exciting journey into the unknown. To me, that is the best kind of reading, since casts aside all the pretensions and pressure so many intellectuals force into people’s reading lives, and allows the process of learning to unfold organically, and reading a Stephen King book is a good way to put this process into effect, and with 11/22/63, he has produced his most accessible book since The Dead Zone. We are introduced to Jake Epping in 2011, a divorced high school and GED teacher whose life seems to have hit a standstill until he reads and essay of the harrowing account of the murder of one of his student’s families. This student, Harry Dunning, is also a janitor at the school Jake works at, and the story produces unknown emotions in him, despite not being a “crying type”. Eventually, he forgets about this essay (although he saves it) after a few years, and one day he goes to Al’s Diner, a place he frequents despite rumors of a nefarious meat product in the hamburgers, and finds his friend Al much older than the night before, as well as sick. Al then shows him a portal that exists in his pantry that takes him back to 1958, and brings you back two minutes ahead. After a brief trip that resulted in Jake buying a classic tasting root beer, Al lays his main mission on Jake: he must stop the Kennedy Assassination. Once Al dies, Jake, for a lack of anything better to do, decides to see this mission out, spending five years in the past. There he finds love, a new life, but also the impending consequences of what he is about to do. Through this time travel story, King expertly details the ideas of self-sacrifice, the ways in which the past must remain unchanged, and the ways in which we have importance in lives of people we know, despite how little we may feel it in the end. It offers the same kind of bittersweet message The Dead Zone does, that doesn’t end smoothly, but it does end right. A good read for Christmas break, and possibly the best thing this master craftsman has done in a good, long while.
Rating: 5/5

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