I put off tackling Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for almost a year, because – let’s face it — it’s a tome. What’s more, I bought it in hardback while browsing through Books Inc., presumably in some kind of vulnerable, hypnotic state. That’s right, I bought an 842-page hardback. Thankfully, I wo-manned up recently and read it, because it’s a fascinating, absorbing book.
(An ancillary benefit: Since it weighs as much as a small dumbbell, I was able to tone my biceps just by lugging it around.)
I’m not a Stephen King enthusiast, despite my conviction that The Shining is one of the best, scariest novels of its genre. But 11/22/63 is not a horror story; it’s a suspenseful tale of time travel, with some history and romance thrown in. Never a sci-fi fan, I was nonetheless drawn in as Jake (the hero of our story) travels back in time, to the era of southern segregation, black and white console televisions, and the Cold War.
There are no flying cars or alien overlords in this story.
Jake makes several trips to the Land of Ago, as he calls 1958 – 1963, hoping to prevent specific acts of violence that devastated individuals, families and in one case an entire nation. But he discovers that the past is obdurate (a $10 word that I’ve discovered means stubborn), and changing fate does not come easy, or cheap.
It’s a novel packed with thrills and plot twists. It’s also thought-provoking, as Jake unwittingly tests the theory of the “butterfly effect” – the concept that seemingly insignificant, well-meaning actions can have profound, unintended ripple effects.
Midway through 11/22/63, I was reminded of a popular 1990’s television series, Early Edition. In it, Kyle Chandler’s character gets “tomorrow’s news today”, in the form of an advance copy of the following day’s Chicago Sun-Times. Rather than use the magical newspaper for personal gain – betting on sports or buying lotto tickets – he rushes around Chicago each day, thwarting the occasional crime and preventing accidents.
If he reads that careless piano movers will drop a Steinway on an unsuspecting pedestrian out walking on tomorrow’s lunch hour, Kyle will be there just in time to push the guy out of the way. It’s pretty harmless stuff, because Kyle is essentially traveling forward in time… and by only one day. There is no way to see downstream, to the long-term impacts of his heroics. He can’t see the butterfly effect, if there is one.
But imagine that you could travel back 60 years or so in time, and hang out in that Time of Ago. You would make friends, forge relationships, buy and sell things, and touch lives in ways large and small. Now suppose you decided to change the fate of someone you care about. Maybe save the life of your grandfather who was killed in Korea. His children wouldn’t lose their father, and your grandmother would never become a widow.
But could you be certain that if he were spared, he and his family would live a long and healthy life? What if he returned from the war a changed man, and his marriage to your grandmother ultimately failed?
What about the man your grandma would have married, after your grandfather’s death in the war? How would his life be changed? What kind of hole would be left in the world, because the children he would have had with your grandmother were never born?
You couldn’t be sure, because of the butterfly effect.
11/22/63. It’s not a sitcom. It’s a really long book, and it will leave you thinking about fate, and destiny, and butterflies long after you reach page 842.
Did anyone else love this book, as much as I did?