I reckon it took Stephen King to get this book published. Only someone with a name and readership as big as his could get this to presses without some serious changes, because it’s too long and too slow for what most publishers believe ‘modern’ readers want.
Take a look at the bestseller lists and you’ll largely find stories that lurch from one crisis to the next, with barely time to breath in between. They follow the Hollywood trend for cramming the action in.
11.22.63 isn’t like that. It’s the story of one man, Jake Epping, as he goes back to 1958 and lives for five years before he gets to what sells the book: saving Kennedy from assassination. At first I enjoyed this look back at the past, the differences to modern life, and following our protagonist’s life.
About 60% of the way through, my attitude changed. It turned from a nice read/listen into a battle of attrition between me and King. Would I be able to last this out? (The audiobook runs 30 hours! The paperback is about 750 pages!)
I’ve formed the opinion that, once you’ve had a few hits as an author, editors fear to do anything to disturb your work, worried they’ll ruin a potential hit. Maybe they believe the author knows what they’re doing. I’ve seen it with a few books now. This should have had huge chunks cut out of it before it was released.
Jake has to go back a couple of times, he undertakes a ‘trial’ to see if things do change the future. That’s fine, and the initial step back on his mission to save Kennedy is fine too. I could live with a bit of colour, but the point of this book, the bit we’ve paid the money for, is how he does/doesn’t stop the assassination. Just get to that.
Instead, we spend forever watching Jake be a teacher, fall in love, spy on the Oswalds and generally do a ton of things we don’t care about. Then, when Jake returns to the future and sees what his efforts have reaped, the whole lot falls apart again for me.
I haven’t heard the words ‘obdurate’ and ‘harmonize’ used so many times in my life (if there’s not a drinking game on these already, there probably will be, and it’ll likely kill any participants).
The narration by Craig Wasson is superb, but the recording goes a bit weird in places, changing tone to the point that I thought someone else was reading it.
It’s an intriguing idea, and for large parts it’s a great read. If you want to give it a go, my advice would be to jump to the assassination once Jake makes it to Dallas. As soon as he leaves, just stop.