Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

The only other Stephen King book I’ve read is On Writing, his excellent guide to writing more crisply. Here are my notes from that book from 13 years ago.

I’ve never read the Stephen King thrillers that have made him famous; I tend not to seek out books or movies (or theme park attractions) that are likely to frighten me.

King’s new-ish novel, 11/22/63, is a thriller of sorts but not of the horror genre. In any case, it’s utterly compelling for most of the 800+ pages. I recommend it, especially to baby boomers who lived through the 60’s or to JFK assassination theorists — conspiracy or otherwise.

It can be easily summarized: A man time travels back to 1963 and attempts to stop the JFK assassination. The plot explores what the world might be like had that seminal event not taken place.

The writing is fluid and often bare. I highlighted only 37 sentences on my Kindle and there aren’t a lot of interstitial thought-bombs. The writing keeps the plot moving along. If there is life wisdom on offer, it comes in sentence fragments or the occasional witty piece of dialogue.

Mainly, you’re tracking plot and you’re learning about what life was like at the time JFK was shot. King conducted an immense amount of research into the actual historical circumstances of the assassination. Much of the novel, apparently, is historically accurate. You really get a flavor for the Texas of that era.

I thought of Russ Roberts and his frequent admonitions about unintended consequences. It turns out that if you time travel back in time to re-write history, you can’t always anticipate how everything will be different afterwards…

1 comment on “Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • 800 pages? It would take a lot to induce me to read another 800 pages of a Stephen King novel. I’ve never forgiven him for the climax of The Stand, in which a literal Hand of God appears and detonates a nuke.

    At least the 1990 version, almost 1200 pages long, hadn’t been published yet. I only had to endure the 800+ pages version. I slogged through the first 300 pages—vignettes of the horrible deaths of ordinary Americans going about their lives, dying one after another, and another, and another. I kept telling telling myself that this was King’s magnum opus, a reputed masterpiece, and that surely it would redeem itself in the next 500. It was not to be.

    Having invested so much effort already, I determined to finish it, all the way to the bitter end, and I did, even though I could have cried with frustration and regret by the time I read the last disappointing word.

    It also pissed me off, even though I wasn’t a Dead Head, that the biological weapon unleashed by the military-industrial complex was nicknamed “Captain Trips”. That was Jerry Garcia’s nickname!

    Let me say one thing, Ben—you’ll learn far more and be more entertained by the ingestion of one hit of good LSD than any Stephen King novel.

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