The way I see it, there are at least two kinds of time travel stories. There are those that are science-based, real science fiction. A machine is often involved, and some kind of time-space anomaly is seriously pondered. Then there is what I think of as the romantic genre of time travel. Who needs a machine when you can step through a magic mirror, walk along the sidewalk, or step down an invisible stair?
That last is King's choice in 11/22/63.
As I point out some flaws in the 842-page novel about trying to undo the Kennedy assassination, I'm fully aware that ardent King fans will dispute every one and accuse me of blasphemy for critiquing his work as though it were just an ordinary book.
I admit I had a good time reading the novel, didn't skip a page, never felt like throwing the book across the room (I might have killed someone with it if I had). I figure 11/22/63 may even make it into the pantheon of time travel classics. And yet, I wasn't the least sorry when it ended.
A FEW QUIBBLES
Early on, the town of Derry seems as though it's going to be part of a horror story but that tone is dropped. It takes ages (years, in the novel, and far too many pages) for Jake, the time traveller, to arrive in Dallas.
The crucial love story is a little thin. We know Jake's lover in the sixties is tall (repeated many times), that her ex-husband facially scars her (and the reader is never allowed a moment to forget the horror of that). The ending (which King writes in his afterword is one his son came up with) is a little too sappy and pat for my taste.
King has his narrator include too much pedestrian detail, telling us way too often how hard it was to fall asleep, or how well he slept. It seemed to me that King was hesitant to mess with history very much, even novelistically, so that we aren't given many crumbs we didn't already have about the pivotal event.
It was an odd choice to have the time traveller having to go back to several years before the main incident. That makes the reading a long haul. History resets with each trip, and when the time traveller says he gets exhausted just thinking about going back again to do things better, so does this reader. The suspense becomes much more keen when we finally get to the assassination scene.
The language throughout is very conversational. That's King's style, but happily this book lacked the repetitive same-word profanity that irritated me in The Dome).
Length does not equal bloat (see my post on Proust), but 11/22/63 is bloated. It could have been improved by cutting one hundred pages or more. I had more than enough about the details of a beating Jake suffered (though it rang true, possibly being a real enough retelling of the aftermath of King's own near-fatal accident). There were too many charity shows put on by high schoolers. I thought I noticed some points-of-view discrepancies in this first-person novel. Was Jake suddenly omniscient when his lover's ex-husban threatened her?
King fans: you'll love it. Time-travel fans: its approach is different enough to make reading it worth the time (unless you've got only a month left to live, in which case, find something better to do). Conspiracy theorists: it's a big book, but it doesn't break any new ground.\
You may begin arguing with me now.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Susan K. Perry