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11/22/63 by Stephen King

What if you could go back in time, what would you change?   Stephen King adds clever twists to the well-worn theme of time travel in 11/22/63 – but it takes a long time to get to the end – almost 900 pages.

Jake Epping, a burned out thirty-five year old English teacher in Maine, finds a portal to the past in the back of a diner scheduled to be demolished and replaced by an L.L. Bean, and decides to change history – specifically the day JFK was shot.  But no matter how long he stays in this parallel world, the portal always delivers him back to the same place and time he left, September 9, 1958.  The caveat: each visit rewinds when he goes through the portal again, so whenever he time travels, everything he did during his last visit is erased; his next trip is always the first time.  King warns “the past doesn’t want to be changed.

Stephen King’s talent for drawing a seemingly normal scene, with strange characters that are just a little off, and a plot that continues to change and surprise – sometimes terrifyingly – works well with the possibility that the world could be a better place, if only some painful history could be erased.  Although this is Stephen King, don’t expect the horrors along with the casual innuendo –  this tale is full of suspense and history and as strange as he usually writes, but not full of the usual terror.

Jake’s appreciation of the food and the life style of the era will have you yearning for a root bear and real cream in your coffee.

“…the air smelled incredibly sweet…Food tasted good; milk was delivered directly to your door.  After a period of withdrawal from my computer, {I realized} just how addicted …I’d become, spending hours reading stupid email attachments and visiting websites…”

While King plays with the familiar history, he adds the humanity that keeps the story suspenseful.  On a trial run to change the local janitor’s past, Jake tests his capabilities, armed with the knowledge of the brutality that is about to happen in the janitor’s past.  When he returns to the diner, he finds he has changed history but the “butterfly effect” created consequences.

Jake’s investigation follows Lee Harvey Oswald, but Jake’s love affair in the past with a beautiful dark-haired librarian with her own secrets, and his increased connection to people and places as they morph into an eerie combination of both worlds, will keep you reading.

How does it turn out?  Does he make a difference – change history?  Could he return to 1958, now changed with the new life he’s invented?  Throughout, time is the enemy and the controller; in the end, King has not only decided the mystery behind the assassination (as he invents it), but also offers a thoughtful treatise on life, love, and relativity.  I won’t spoil the journey by telling you the details, but the ending is both romantic and jarring.

At times, the descriptions and narrative are overdone, and King could have told the story in a shorter volume.  The book seemed to go on and on, but I got to a point of no return and could not stop; the key action is riveting and makes up for some of King’s meandering.  Though not a fan of Stephen King, I ploughed through this thick tome, and was not disappointed – suspenseful and provocative – with a good story and even better hypothesis on fate and time.

Don’t we all secretly know…{the world} is a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life…a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

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