11/22/63 by Stephen King (review & discussion)

11/22/63 by Stephen King
Hardcover 849 pages

This was my first Stephen King book. I have hesitated reading him before (even though I’ve heard how wonderful he is at engaging his audience) because I don’t like horror novels. Luckily for me, King also write non-horror books, so I decided to give this one a try. First of all, the cover was a great sell — who wouldn’t want to know what the world would be like if Kennedy hadn’t been killed? Would Bobby have lived as well? If so, one (who has paid attention in history class) would imagine how much different our country would have been in the decades that followed that fateful day in 1963. But it wasn’t just that which drew me to the book, it was idea of traveling back in time to try to rectify wrongs. We’re told on the cover flap that Jake Epping (the protagonist) is first tempted to use the rabbit hole he has been introduced to in order to save someone much closer to his heart than Kennedy — a elderly janitor at the school where he teaches, who walks with a limp for a tragic reason and is made fun of by the teenagers at the high school where he works. What happens in this story, as I was hoping, is a study of what would happen if we could go back and change the parts of the past for what, we hope, would be the better. This is a discussion that could fill a semester-long philosophy course, so I applaud King for making grand points in less than 1,000 pages. I also applaud him for keeping me enthralled most of the time (there were a few parts that I felt could have been edited down, but by the end I understood why he felt the need to take the time for us to get to know the characters and relationships they had with each other).  I am recommending this to anyone I know who can handle a book over 500 pages — it won’t feel that long (besides the hand cramping that may take place from holding it).

If you have a book club that would possibly be able to read such a chunkster — this would make for some GREAT conversation! And if you have a long plane/train/car ride ahead of you this is sure to keep you occupied. For travel, however, might I recommend getting it on an e-reader or listening to it on audio? It is quite heavy and would take up a bit of room in your bag. On that note, head over to BookRiot today to see the Airplane Reading List I’ve come up with thanks to help from readers! (*Link will be live after 6:15 am PST/ 9:15 am EST.)

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE ALREADY READ THE BOOK, PLEASE ALSO NOTE THAT SOME OF THE COMMENTS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS AS PEOPLE MIGHT BE DISCUSSING POINTS THAT I’VE RAISED BELOW… OR OTHERS THAT THEY’VE TAKEN FROM THE BOOK:

I was completely intrigued by the prospect of going back in time to save people that you love (or a country that you live in). Along the way this book had me trying to think ahead of King’s narrative to the catastrophes that would be set in motion by changing the past. I’m glad he did not let all work out for good but rather showed us that there seems to need to be some balance to the universe (which he used by incorporating the Butterfly Effect). Did anyone else like this, or were you hoping he would end it more happily?

Another thing that really touched my heart was the decision that Jake had to make about leaving Sadie in the past. Sacrificing something dear to you (that you actually know you could have) for the greater good of the human population would not be easy — even though it may sound like it should be. We all know the saying “the heart wants what the heart wants”; it’s used because it’s true. What’s worse is that, in a way, this was a death to Jake (since he couldn’t have Sadie in his life, even if she lived) — and he had to make the decision to let it happen. Many of you who read this blog have seen me mention that I lost my dad in an accident when I was seven, so this was at the forefront of my mind while reading the end of this book. I’m not sure how powerfully it hit home for people who haven’t had that kind of loss (the kind that you actually could change by warning them off, or changing the course of a day), but it hit me squarely in the heart when Jake was making his final decision. I can honestly say I have no idea if I would be capable of walking away from a chance to save my father and see what life would have been like actually growing up with a dad. My dad. I would like to say I’d be the kind of person who would sacrifice for the rest of the world, but it would take all of my strength to do it – and I would never get over knowing that I gave up a chance to have my happiness. On the other hand, over the years, I’ve also played through what might have (and probably would have) been different had he lived; my relationships with my mom and brother, their relationships with each other, my relationships with my uncle and grandparents, etc… and most of all, me. Would I be a completely different person? It wouldn’t be far-fetched to think I’d be, at least, somewhat different – and who knows if it would be for the better or the worse? And would my dad have died anyway that day, or week, or month, just in a different way (I had never thought of this possibility before it was brought up in this book, even after extensively thinking about this subject for the past almost quarter of a century)? All this to say that I loved, loved, loved, King’s exploration and observations in these areas. Did anyone else go into such a philosophical place while reading this – or am I the only drama queen here?

If I could change one thing about the book, I would have had Jake spend less time in Derry… if only because we went there twice and we already knew what happened in the mundane areas (meeting people, getting sick, etc.). I think the second visit could have been summed up quicker (if only because my hands cramped the whole time I was reading this monster of a heavy book). Anything you would have changed or didn’t care for about this book?

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21 thoughts on “11/22/63 by Stephen King (review & discussion)

    • Thanks. I think I would be VERY tempted to go back (depending on the period I was going back to). Especially if I could come right home, like Jake, if I didn’t like it or needed to. Would you?

  1. If you prefer the non-horror King, I recommend reading his first foray into the fantasy realm – THE EYES OF THE DRAGON. Great story telling and spawned from his youngest daughters dislike of his horror tales. It was a bedtime story tale for her – revolving around a dark fairy tale of kings and evil princes and a dragon of course! SOooooo good!!

    I’m the opposite of you, I read all his older novels growing up and loved them… but ever since his near-death accident and sobering up, I steer clear of his new stuff… just not the same. It’s like he lost something that was once so vital for me…

    • Ohhh, thank you! I will absolutely be looking into that!! He is such an engaging writer, I just can’t do the horror thing (though I may try — just for him… I did used to love Christopher Pike, et al when I was a teenager, I have no idea what happened to make me such a scaredy cat!).

      The fact that his writing changed after the accident (the one where he was hit by a car?) is really interesting. I wonder why – any theories? I hear he’s working on the sequel to The Shining right now. Will you read it to compare, or are you over him entirely?

  2. As you know, this one didn’t cut it for me. Besides the fact that very little of it dealt with the assassination attempt, I didn’t feel that his characters were fleshed out enough for me to really care about them. I liked them, but not enough to really care about them and I have never felt that way about a King book. Sadie was a very weak character. We never really got to know her. I liked Jake. I liked him a lot and the ending was more in line with what I’d expect from King, but the little side jaunts… not really my thing. That whole trial run was sort of pointless. I don’t feel that the time travel piece was handled all that well either.

    It’s hard to write all this and still call myself a King fan, but I do love the man. I’ve been a fan of his since high school but this one just hit me wrong.

    • I agree about the test run. I see why it was needed, but I don’t think it needed to be so detailed. I guess he was just trying to show us that things didn’t get perfectly reset each time… but, in the end, that didn’t really seem to matter. In fact, I’m still wondering why he included that fact other than to tie in the Butterfly Effect.

      I feel differently about Sadie than you do. I actually liked her and thought she was a strong character. I was actually sad when she died… got a little teary because I wasn’t expecting it until it was obvious that it was going to happen. Though I cared about the Dunning family by the time he saved them – I wasn’t super invested besides the fact that it was such a heinous incident. I think he could have eliminated that story and still had a great book. There were other ways of giving Jake the fire to actually go back in time, and to gauge what happened with the Butterfly Effect. Maybe that would have freed up more pages to concentrate on the main story. If you’re interested in the Kennedy assassination I highly recommend listening to the Jackie interviews. You’re welcome to borrow mine if you want!

      I certainly think you’re still a King fan. Did you read what TNBCC said about his writing after the accident? Do you agree with that? I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read anything else by him.

  3. I’ve never read any of Stephen King either and thought i might start with this one. I downloaded it onto my ereader because of its size. What appealed to me too was the idea of time travel and how it could effect the future. Looking forward to it.

  4. **This comment will be ridden with spoilers!*

    I also wish he had spent a little less time in Derry since, while it was completely intriguing and kept my attention, it did take a bit when compared to the real meat of the story. Granted, I’ve learned since then that SK does like to meander along in a story and really tell it, so since I plan to read more of him this year, I better get used to it. :) But I still enjoyed how he tells the story, so I’m okay with it. I also found out that Derry is a town which was originally visited in another novel, and that King likes to revisit towns and also favorite characters that his audience loves. Remember the teenage couple learning the Lindy Hop? Apparently, these were characters in another book and SK fans pounced all over it in glee that they returned. I wish I had read more of his work to be able to feel the excitement of seeing characters pop up and return in another book.

    I was devastated when he chose to leave Sadie, but I completely understood why. It had to be done, but oh my, it was just so sad. I thought Sadie, true to her name that seemed so strong and innocent and representative of the times, was perfect for him, and was his true love. SK seems to be able to tug at my heartstrings so unexpectedly and I did get a little teary-eyed as well when Jake danced with her at the end of the book.

    I love how this book made you think of your own personal story. I lost my mother seven years ago due to complications following a heart transplant and it does make me think what I would do. Could I go back fifteen years ago to tell the doctors what was really going on when she went in to see them with a variety of other symptoms that didn’t initially present as heart problems? Heck, yeah.

    I can’t wait to read more SK. I really enjoy his introductions and his afterwords that he includes, so for The Stephen King Project, I’m going to include his memoir, “On Writing.” I do have some other ones lined up that are on the creepy side, because why not? He’s just fantastic!

    Great review, and now I’ll pop on over to read the recommendations for Airplane Reading. I travel about twice a month for work and am always on a plane, airport, or in a hotel, so I’m always looking for something to while away the time.

    • I LOVE it when authors do that (bring characters back)… Maeve Binchy does that as well.

      I think it’s a fantastic sign when an author can not only entertain you, but really get you thinking as well. Looks like King did that for both of us. I agree, the meandering doesn’t ruin it for me. Could I live without it? Sure, but I was engaged pretty much the whole time. I kept thinking about how talented he is as a writer to be able to tell this grand scoping story and weave together all of the characters and plots. Now to know he also brought back places and people! Oh to see his notebooks for writing!

      I will definitely be joining you when you read On Writing. I really want to read that book (I heard it’s wonderful) and now, after reading this one, I want to read it all the more! It will perfect to read with others who enjoy the craft of writing. I may also join in on one or two of the others as well! So fun experiencing a first King with others since so many have already been involved with him for so long!

  5. I had to hold off on reading all of the comments until I finished the book. It was the second Stephen King book I’ve read. The first was Under the Dome and while it started off with a bang, it finished with a wimper. I was hesitant to start 11/22/63 but after hearing so many rave reviews, I gave in and am so glad I did!!

    There have been a lot of books written about time travel but I loved the aspect of actually changing events of the past. I felt like “the past” almost became a character when it kept throwing curveballs at Jake to try to get him to stop.

    I really loved both Jake and Sadie and got a little teary at the end when they danced their last dance.

    This book just might have made me into a Stephen King fan!

  6. I was 12 when the President Kennedy was killed and he was buried on my 13th birthday. It has always haunted me that Oswald didn’t act alone. I think he was a patsy; I know there are theories out there. And also, my generation has always dreamed of what the world would have been if Kennedy hadn’t been killed.
    I loved this book. It was wonderful and it’s not too long. I read it in a matter of days; and it kept my interest because it was reliving what I lived. I truly couldn’t put it down.
    I have never been brave enough to read a Stephen King book; frankly, horror scares the hell out of me, but I loved this book and can’t wait to see if he follows it up with another one that’s this good.

  7. If you want more of Stephen King’s great writing without the “horror”, I would recommend “The Green Mile”, or the short stories “The Body” (Became the movie Stand By Me), or “Rita Hayworth at Shawshank” (became the movie shawshank redemption). None of those are traditional horror stories. However if you enjoyed this book, and can get up the nerve some of his scarier books are also his best works specifically “The Stand” and “The Shining”. I have read everything Mr. King has written, been a fan since I read “Carrie” as a scared 10 year old with a flashlight under my covers.

  8. Stephen King, If you read these comments–please write another time travel book soon. And, not the future–go back to anytime from 1880 forward. I also loved Jack Finney’s Time and Again. Your book, 11/22/63 was great. Sadie was a STRONG character and one that will always stay with me. Loved Jake, too and would be so grateful if you would write another time travel book.

  9. loved the book, hated Sadie. I don’t think she was meant to be liked or cared about really. She was just who Jake loved. I think S.K disliked her as well. But then again he wasn’t writing as himself. He was writing as Jake.

  10. Have a question. Was Sadie a butterfly effect. During there breakup jake mentions similarity and name on Reno applications. Should I keep reading ? Just at where jake moves to ft worth. Thanks

    • Hmmm. I honestly can’t remember now – it’s been awhile. You should definitely keep reading, if I remember correctly you aren’t all that far from the end. Might as well see what he chooses in the end, right?

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  12. I really enjoy Stephen King’s books. Also I love the thought of time travel. I hate to sopund like an idiot, but I didn’t understand the very end, Any explanations?

    • What exactly didn’t you understand? I just finished reading the book today, so it’s nice and fresh in my mind, maybe I can help :)

  13. I would have definitely either brought Sadie back to 2011 or even just stayed back in time, with a list of the top 1000 stock trades from 1958 – 2011, of course:-)

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