JFK was President when I was born, so his death didn’t mean much to me. But the Kennedy assassination was one of those Big Moments in American history, something important that happened in modern times and was recorded for all the world to see. It’s been a lighting rod for sci fi writers, here is a moment where the question What If? all but asks itself.
I listened to the audio book version of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and it has to be one of the best audio books ever recorded. Reader Craig Wasson brings the story of our hero Jake/George to life with his brilliant voice acting. His only weakness is a fondness for mimicking famous movie actors; I might not have chosen Burt Lancaster to be a Jewish pawn broker, but it still worked.
11/22/63 is a long book, 849 pages and over 30 hours of audio. There’s a ton of history and as always, King is a master of the telling detail. The timeline of 11/22/63 covers about five years, the bulk of them lived in the past of 1958 to 1963. Like all time travel tales, our hero can’t resist the urge to change just a few things while he is there.
There was a BBC show called Goodnight Sweetheart which was about an average Joe who finds a wormhole to the past and promptly lives a double life. 11/22/63 feels like it might have been inspired by Goodnight Sweetheart, of course, King adds a few twists of his own to the story.
11/22/63 is a romance, an adventure story, and above all, an escapist tale. Who hasn’t dreamed of running away from home? Here we have a hero living a fairly dull life, who goes back in time and can live life to the fullest.
Spoiler Alerts—-A few questions about the story.
I loved 11/22/63, but I didn’t like the results of Jake/George’s actions on the future. I’ve seen other stories where it has been shown that saving Kennedy’s life would be a Bad Thing and that WWIII would be a likely result. Stephen King goes a little more supernatural than I like-by tweaking the timeline God or Fate or Gaia or Something causes earthquakes that will ultimately end in the destruction of Reality. This is a far cry from saying that an American lead by Kennedy leads to further conflict with the USSR or China and an exchange of nukes results. How does saving Kennedy cause earthquakes to shatter the world? This glimpse of dystopian America is brief, but annoying.
Then there is the problem of the Yellow Card Man/Watchers. If they are aware of problems caused by these wormholes and the damage done by accidental tourists, why didn’t they do something to stop Al from using his Rabbit Hole in the first place? And if they couldn’t do anything, what was the point of hanging around and going mad?
One of the great weaknesses of all Time Travel stories is the Get Out Of Jail Free Card effect-you can do anything you want, so long as you can use the time machine you can fix it. Jake finds out that using his time machine resets the past every time it is used, so right from the get go, we are told that nothing Jake does will really matter. If he does something that almost destroys Reality, he can just use the Rabbit Hole one more time.