Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks to Stephen King, I no longer need to change the past—he’s done it for me


In the 1980s, this pretty much became my mantra:  “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”  It began when I had a fight with my parents & moved out on my own at 17, to working a succession of minimum wage jobs and dropping out of college after a year.   By the age of 25, I was uneducated, unemployed & homeless.

I often fantasized at the time, “what if I could go back in time, just ten years or so, and warn my 15-16 year old self “Do this, not THAT.  And don’t do this, do THIS instead.”  

Even after I got my head on straight at the age of 27 and began making some right decisions, I still dwelled on the past:  “If I had just said ‘not interested’ to that girl on the bus...if I’d just turned down that cigarette from that waitress at the Pancake House…where would I be now?”  (For all I know, even worse off.)

So perhaps it’s those younger fantasies of fixing the past (and love of history, and outright adoration of ALL THINGS STEPHEN KING) that has me in amore right now with his latest novel, “11/22/63”.  I am reviewing an 850 page book, of which I am currently only 179 pages through.  It’s THAT good & I don’t need a fortune teller to tell me how I’m going to feel when I finish reading this terrific story.

Jake Epping is a 35 year old schoolteacher and just starting summer vacation when he’s asked by the owner of a local diner (whom Jake frequents almost daily) to pay him a visit.  Our schoolteacher does, and is surprised to encounter Al (who owns the diner) looking much thinner (and much older) than just the day before.  

 And from there, the magic happens:  Al carefully explains to Jake that sometime back, he discovered an exit of sorts, in the back of his diner’s storeroom.  And if you approach it from just the right angle, you’ll find yourself in a grassy area behind a textile plant in September 1958.  (It’s where the diner now sits in 2011.)   It’s always the same date & time when you arrive—September 11, 11:58 am.  And no matter how long you choose to remain there, for a 10 minute visit at the local malt shop or to plunk down roots and re-live the 1960s, if you return to 2011, only 2 minutes has passed from the time you left. 

It turns out that Al the diner owner had been living in the past for several years, only to be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer by a doctor in Dallas in 1962.  He had no choice but to return to 2011 (considerably older looking, given the 4 years he lived there with his disease) & find someone who will carry out his carefully laid out plan to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he can kill President Kennedy. 

Of course Jake has plenty of questions—are you off your rocker (then again, he just saw Al yesterday and he looks very different today) and if all of this is true, can you change the past?   Yes—Al explains he carved his initials and ‘2011’ on a tree in ‘58, returned to the present & located the tree—with some 50 year old carvings now in it’s trunk.  The future (or present) has been changed.   And the only way Al can convince Jake things are on the up-and-up is to have the teacher step through & take a look-see himself.

”Who’s that man in the odd looking clothes?”

Jake does, of course—who wouldn’t?  And like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future”, finds things very different.  The air is stinky with pollution from a nearby factory that’s been shut down in his time since the 1970s, but the local townsfolk are all well dressed and well mannered; the root beer he gets at a local drugstore is like nothing he’s ever had before and everyone smokes—everywhere. 

And while enjoying looking at the cars and fashions of the day, Jake remembers an essay he read a couple years back, in his Adult English class—written by Harry Dunning, the friendly janitor at his school about “The Day That Changed My Life”.  It was a story of a young boy who watched his mom, baby sister & brothers all get bludgeoned to death with a hammer by a drunken father on an October night in 1958.   And in this time, that’s only weeks away.

So yes, he will return to 2011 and tell Al he’ll take out Kennedy’s assassin;  but he’s going to take care of Harry Dunning’s murderous dad too.  

Without giving any more of the story away, King weaves a careful, marvelous tale.  While I love ALL his works (okay, I wasn’t crazy about “insomnia”) If you’re an amateur time travel enthusiast like me & have lots of questions (about the ‘Butterfly Effect’ for starters), trust me—the man answers all of them. 

And if the notion of reading science fiction or fantasy (or horror) makes you uneasy—not to worry, you’ll get none of that here.  Get this book and enjoy the ride!

1958 Ford Fairlane


  1. I love Stwphen King and I loved this review! He has a miniseries on A&E next month based on Bag of Bones did you know about it? Thank you for this EXcellent review I will get my copy today!

  2. Thank you Lisa--to be honest I was a little worried I "reviewed too soon" (currently up to page 231, haha) but I couldn't resist--this is King's triumph, I know you'll love it :)

  3. I've only read "The Stand", but I loved every minute of it! This book sounds so intriguing, and your review has convinced me to give it a go! Thanks, Dug!

  4. Wow, and from one of the coolest bloggers I know too! Thanks Donovan, that made my day! :)

  5. Great review. Must get this book too! Love Mr. King. :)

  6. Thanks Chelly! Good for you, you'll love it :)


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