I think there was a point at which it was fashionable to say that Stephen King’s best words were long since typed – perhaps around the time when he announced his retirement.
Just like his retirement, the notion that King has lost his mojo has been proven false – and nothing underlines the calibre of King’s recent creativity as much as 11.22.63.
I’ve long held the belief that the fact that King is so easy to read often leads people to conclude that while he might be a commercial heavyweight, he’s a literary lightweight. Personally, I think this is about as true as the idea that he’s a spent force.
Delving into the first pages of 11.22.63 was like revisiting an old friend. That easy style was welcoming, like a firm handshake or even a hug. Welcome back, reader. Sit yourself down.
And then 11.22.63 does what any good book should do – it draws you in. Within a few pages, you’re part of the story, being carried along for the ride.
The premise is simple: if you could go back in time, would you stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK? And, if you did, wouldn’t it make the world a better place? The proprietor of a local diner, Al Templeton, believes that this would be the case – and that he has the means to do it. But, for reasons better explained by King, he can’t – so he passes the baton to an initially reluctant English teacher, Jake Epping.
So Epping takes a trip or two back in time – the first to familiarise himself with the world of the past, a second to prove that the future can be changed. And then – the main mission.
The problem is that the doorway to the past lands you on the same day in 1958, so there’s some hanging around waiting to catch up with history. A few years when it’s important to stay out of history’s way, not make waves – and not change anything.
That’s enough in the way of spoilers. The book itself I’d describe as well-balanced – gripping when it needs to be, laid-back when life’s more normal. I’ve seen this described in other reviews as ‘sagging in the middle’ but I’d challenge that – King’s giving Epping time to grow, make friends, form relationships. And it’s this that I found more endearing than many of King’s other books. Sure, he writes great, believable characters, but I’ve not personally felt that the relationship between any come off so well – and be so moving – as that between Jake and Sadie in 11.22.63.
There’s also some lovely writing – sections which show King not just as a master of plot and character, but as someone who really can twist words to his will. But he’s not an indulgent showman – for the most part, he lets the story do the talking. He’s out to entertain, not impress.
There were a few parts – not many – where I felt things were a little overplayed, but these were brief and didn’t detract from what is a great read. 11.22.63 is entertaining from end to end, gripping, emotionally intelligent and at times moving.