A combination of curiosity, and a watershed moment led Jake Epping through a rabbit hole and into 1958 in the gripping new novel by Stephen King.
Jake Epping is a high school English and GED teacher. When he asks students to write about an event that changed their lives, he never thought it would change his. Jake’s watershed moment occurs when he reads Henry Dunning’s essay about the night his father came home and killed his mother, his sister and his brothers with a sledgehammer.
Two years later Jake is summoned to a diner owned by his friend Al Templeton. Al, who looks as if he has aged 20 years overnight, explains the secrets of the diner’s pantry to Jake. It is a portal into a particular day in 1958. You always go to the same date and time and no matter how long you are gone, only two minutes has elapsed in the present time. You will still age though, so if you spend two years in the past you will age two years (hence Al’s appearance). Al is unable to continue what he has made his life’s mission so he recruits Jake for the job - to go back to 1958 and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from firing the fatal shots that changed our world forever.
I thought this book was going to be about a man trying to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination and what the world would be like if he succeeded. I was wrong. It was so much more. I loved every page of this book, from the first line. While the meat of the novel is Jake’s mission, the heart of the novel is the love story. It’s about a time when life was simpler, people were more trusting, the air smells better and the food tastes better.
Jake and Sadie are two phenomenal characters, both strong and well-written. They will go down in my own personal hall of fame. The supporting cast is just as good and the time period becomes a character in itself. It is clear how well researched this novel was. The history of that time, of Lee Harvey Oswald and JFK is fascinating.
11/22/63 has been hailed as King’s Tour de Force. King does a phenomenal job of bringing the late 50’s and early 60’s to life. I also think it is his love letter to that era. I could envision myself in a full skirted dress doing the Lindy Hop and the Madison right along with Jake and Sadie. And isn’t that a mark of a great writer, to be so engrossed in the story we feel we are right there with the characters?
While I would have preferred a different ending, I know it is the only reasonable way this novel could have ended. But if time is elastic and different threads are being pulled at all times, maybe somewhere, somehow things are different, simpler. If you haven’t read this novel, do it. It was one of the best books I have read in a long time.
Read the alternate ending here and ball your eyes out all over again, I did.