awritingblog (awritingblog) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Book #1: 11/22/63

My first book is 11/22/63, which is Stephen King's new novel. Jake Epping, a mild-mannered English teacher, is approached by a dying man who has access to a portal back in time (1958, to be precise). He asks Jake to undertake his life's vendetta: go back in time and stay there long enough to prevent the JFK assassination. And, after a few test runs, Jake agrees. 

This is the longest it's ever taken me to read a Stephen King novel, and that says a lot about it. 11/22/63 is a good read, don't get me wrong. It has the thoughtful tone and lovely writing of King's post-accident works, but it feels closer in tone to his older thrillers. (My mind kept coming back to the Dead Zone because of the premise.) But all the same... it's too long. 

Now, 850 pages is a pretty good length for a book. I welcome that sort of thing with open arms; I love Duma Key and The Stand and most of his other doorstops. I like knowing that I'm going to be with the same characters for a long time, and the characters here are enjoyable. 

Jake is sweet, clever, and a good narrator. He's smart enough to recognize the foibles of the past and sweet enough to fall in love with it all the same. His love interest, Sadie, is also awesome: she doesn't take shit from anyone, and in the climactic rush to save Kennedy at the end of the book, she's a total badass. (I choose to cling to that badassery and ignore the timid, virginal side of her character, because she grows out of it.) There are also a couple of charming side characters (most of whom Jake meets in his temporary home in Texas), and a few characters from It make a brief appearance. (A different reviewer said this annoyed them, but I thought it was a sweet scene, partly because I liked It and partly because the scene is just adorable. It's about dancing, like quite a bit of this book. And no, it wasn't necessary, but, frankly, so was most of the book. This was at least an enjoyable unnecessity.)

And the writing is good, too. It's classic King, where every significant scene feels like a short story in its own right, and the characters are always telling us what things mean without hitting us over the head. When I was actually reading it, it did go by quickly.

But the book just couldn't hold my attention. Part of this is probably the topic. I am not a Baby Boomer, so the JFK assassination does not hold the fascination for me that it would King's generation (and anyone who was alive to see it happen). It was sad. It happened. And everyone who writes conspiracies about it is a nut. Lee Harvey Oswald, the character with whom this novel is obsessed, is just... not interesting to me. I recognize that that's the point, but... come on. The book is 850 pages. I need something a little meatier. And I definitely do not hold the nostalgia for days-gone-by that King does. He doesn't gloss over the icky parts--racism, sexism, nuclear scares--but whenever I read nostalgic parts, it just turned me off, because it made me remember how lucky I am to live in a time where it's okay to be gay (at least, mostly) and feminism is (mostly) not a four-letter word.

And part of it is the length. Like I said, when I was actually reading, the book gripped me, but whenever I put it down, I was not particularly driven to pick it up again. I read it mostly on car rides and when there was nothing on TV, which is never a good sign for a book. The story just can't justify the length. So much of it is spent getting used to the past and getting set up in the past, and then there is a long section dedicated to figuring out if Oswald worked alone. Even though we already know the answer, because there's still about four hundred pages left. 

Really, I would have liked this a lot better as a novella. There are a handful of great scenes throughout the book--Jake's conversation with the man who directs him into the past; when Jake falls in love with Sadie; the climactic scene in the book depository--and I feel like they could be strung together and the rest summarized without much loss. Even a long novella would be better than this, because the parts that shine are really dragged down by everything else. 

But if you've got the weekend and you like King, I wouldn't turn you away. Just don't use this one as your gateway drug.

Tags: book review, horror

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