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1 March 2014

Stephen King
Publication Date
05 July 2012 (Kindle)
alternative history, science fiction

After a few what I felt were not 'outstanding' books by Stephen King, he did release 11/22/63 in September 2011, and here we have another King masterpiece. 

If you could change history, would you?

The main protagonist of this story is Jake Epping. The story starts in 2011 in Lisbon Falls, Maine where Jake is a divorced teacher. in the first chapter, Jake tells us about an assignment he gave to his 'Adult Writing Class' where he asked the participants to write a story on 'The Day that changed my life'. Jake is most touched by the story written by the school's Janitor, Harry Danning. Though written in poor spelling/grammar, Harry says 'It wasn't a day, but a night which changed my life', and he tells the story how on Halloween in 1958, his violent father killed his mother and 3 siblings and Harry is now permanently disabled. 

Later, Jake receives a phone call from Al Templeton, the proprietor of 'Al's Diner' which Jake frequents. Al says he has to speak to Jake urgently. When Jake arrives and sees Al, he is shocked. He had only seen Al the previous day fit and well, but now suddenly he looks like not only has he aged by several years overnight, but he also looks gravely ill. Al eventually explains by showing Jake a time travelling portal in the back of his diner. Walking down the stairs in the back of the diner, you end up  in September 1958 in Lisbon Falls in the same location where the diner will be many years later. No matter how long you stay in the past, when coming back by 'feeling' for the stairs, you've been away only for exactly 2 minutes. But your own body still ages if you stay in the past, for example, for one year. And, very importantly, when going back again into the past, all what you did there previously has been erased, as if your previous trip to the past has never happened. That's how Al has been able to sell his burgers so cheap as he always purchases the meat from Lisbon Falls in 1958. However, of course, it's not only about cheap meat. 

Al explains to Jake that he did a lot of research and he believes that there is one event in history when, if changed, could change the way of the world for the better - and that is the assassination of president JF Kennedy on Nov 22 1963. He figures that if JFK stays alive and stays the American president, than the Vietnam war will never happen. So if Lee Harvey Oswald can be stopped somehow, the world will be a better place. Al tried himself, but developed lung cancer during his time in the past and never made it to 1963. Now he wants Jake to complete his mission. He leaves Jake with a book of all his research and how he tracked Oswald etc. But he also explains that the past has a habit of not wanting to be changed. 

What follows is Jake's story of how he will enter 1958 (several times). The first thing which comes to his mind is the story of Harry Denning and how his father murdered all his family at Halloween and Jake tries to change the course of events… the first time he realises how strongly the past will fight not be changed. And when Jake does prevent the murder on Halloween… and comes back to 2011, the results were not as he thought they were. And, of course, being back through the portal and when re-entering again, all the changes Jake made (preventing the murder) all null and void, so he will have to start again.
Whilst tracking Oswald and waiting for 1963, Jake settles in a small town called Jodie not far from Dallas where he picks up to be a teacher. And he meets the love of his life, Sadie. 

King takes us on a wonderful ride here into the late 1950's/ early 1960's. A lot of research must have gone into this. I was never bored and couldn't put the book down, and can say that this was one of the best reads for me of the last few years. So much is happening in every single chapter and the time travelling process is completely believable for me. Also, unlike other time travelling novels I read which were very confusing as to when /where / who is doing what, here we are always sure where in time we are and what Jake is doing or attempting to do. This is now the time to admit that I did cry at the end for Jake and Sadie...

A few reviews talked about that there seems to be a lot of 'political writing / King's political agenda' in this book. I have to completely disagree with this. Now, admittedly, I'm not interested in politics really and for me, King merely describes some of the players in politics at the time. Also, some said they found it unbelievable that Jake would take on such a challenge from Al when Al is mainly a friend and not even a close one. But for me it was pretty clear from the first chapter that Jake was not particularly happy in 2011, broken from his divorce. And it doesn't take long to figure out that Jake is much happier in 1958 on onwards, if it only wasn't for his huge task of stopping Oswald and the past trying its best to but a spanner in the works. 

My daughter bought me the book when it first came out, but I didn't read it until Oct 2013 when I went on holiday (I usually take a book which I'm really looking forward to reading with me on holiday), and I finished it during our 7day holiday.