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11/22/63: Stephen King Tries to Save JFK in New Time Travel Novel

By Periscope @periscopepost
Texas School Book Depository

The Dallas County Administration Building, formerly the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot JFK as he passed through Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. Photo Credit: bhenak,

Fans of Quantum Leap rejoice! Thriller master Stephen King’s new tome 11/22/63 has protagonist Jake Epping, a small town Maine schoolteacher, traveling back to the past to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The mission is the brainchild of Al Templeton, who has found a time travel portal in the basement of his Lisbon Falls, Me. diner but is so stricken with lung cancer that he cannot continue on his quest. The portal takes Epping back to 11:58 a.m., September 9, 1958, where the root-beer tastes better and every room is filled with smoke, and his quest to stop Lee Harvey Oswald (he’s 75 percent sure that Oswald shot Kennedy) begins. Epping begins by preventing the murder of the mother of one of his night school students and then moves to small town Texas, where he begins teaching and falls in love — all the while fateful day of the Kennedy shooting draws closer.

King is the one of the most popular authors in the United States, and this is his 54th work of fiction — what’s more, the critics agree that it’s pretty darn good:

Expertly crafted. “It takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible,” observed Janet Maslin in the pages of The New York Times. “Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick.” Maslin praises King’s “considerable research” and the novel’s “immediacy, pathos and suspense”, both of which make the 849-page book “fly by”.

I wouldn’t change a thing. Alan Cheuse told US Radio Station NPR that “the combination of King’s love of the ’50s and his deeper search into the Kennedy assassination make this novel a terrifically entertaining work of fiction”. Cheuse humorously observed: “[I]f I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have him change a single page.”

Not quite enough to quell conspiracy theories. Peter Cannon for Publishers Weekly loved the “fine job” King has done evoking the novel’s setting back in time and praises an ending that is “as apt as it is surprising”. He does add, though, that King could have spent more time debunking the Oswald myth to prove the naysayers wrong – Cannon is of the firm opinion that Oswald acted alone.

An amazing evolution of King’s work. Over here in the UK, The Guardian’s Mark Lawson was similarly enthusiastic about the novel. He noted that the book’s conception began way back when in 1972, but that King has “waited for the right time” to write this novel and his other re-energised project Under The Dome (2009) — indeed, he opines, “going backwards proves to be another step forward for the most remarkable storyteller in modern American literature”.

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