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11/22/63: A Novel [Paperback]

Stephen King
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 24 2012
ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, THREE SHOTS RANG OUT IN DALLAS, PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED, AND THE WORLD CHANGED. WHAT IF YOU COULD CHANGE IT BACK?

In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

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About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Mr. Mercedes, Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

8

On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle—also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano—complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest, things in my life.

9

I came awake with a jerk, hearing someone mutter “Still not too late” under his breath. I realized it was me and shut up.

Sadie murmured some thick protest and turned over in bed. The familiar squeak of the springs locked me in place and time: the Candlewood Bungalows, April 5, 1963. I fumbled my watch from the nightstand and peered at the luminous numbers. It was quarter past two in the morning, which meant it was actually the sixth of April.

Still not too late.

Not too late for what? To back off, to let well enough alone? Or bad enough, come to that? The idea of backing off was attractive, God knew. If I went ahead and things went wrong, this could be my last night with Sadie. Ever.

Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.

True enough. Oswald was going to relocate to New Orleans for awhile after the attempt on the general’s life—another shitty apartment, one I’d already visited—but not for two weeks. That would give me plenty of time to stop his clock. But I sensed it would be a mistake to wait very long. I might find reasons to keep on waiting. The best one was beside me in this bed: long, lovely, and smoothly naked. Maybe she was just another trap laid by the obdurate past, but that didn’t matter, because I loved her. And I could envision a scenario—all too clearly—where I’d have to run after killing Oswald. Run where? Back to Maine, of course. Hoping I could stay ahead of the cops just long enough to get to the rabbit-hole and escape into a future where Sadie Dunhill would be . . . well . . . about eighty years old. If she were alive at all. Given her cigarette habit, that would be like rolling six the hard way.

I got up and went to the window. Only a few of the bungalows were occupied on this early-spring weekend. There was a mud- or manure-splattered pickup truck with a trailer full of what looked like farm implements behind it. An Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. A couple of station wagons. And a two-tone Plymouth Fury. The moon was sliding in and out of thin clouds and it wasn’t possible to make out the color of the car’s lower half by that stuttery light, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, anyway.

I pulled on my pants, undershirt, and shoes. Then I slipped out of the cabin and walked across the courtyard. The chilly air bit at my bed-warm skin, but I barely felt it. Yes, the car was a Fury, and yes, it was white over red, but this one wasn’t from Maine or Arkansas; the plate was Oklahoma, and the decal in the rear window read GO, SOONERS. I peeked in and saw a scatter of textbooks. Some student, maybe headed south to visit his folks on spring break. Or a couple of horny teachers taking advantage of the Candlewood’s liberal guest policy.

Just another not-quite-on-key chime as the past harmonized with itself. I touched the trunk, as I had back in Lisbon Falls, then returned to the bungalow. Sadie had pushed the sheet down to her waist, and when I came in, the draft of cool air woke her up. She sat, holding the sheet over her breasts, then let it drop when she saw it was me.

“Can’t sleep, honey?”

“I had a bad dream and went out for some air.”

“What was it?”

I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my loafers. “Can’t remember.”

“Try. My mother always used to say if you tell your dreams, they won’t come true.”

I got into bed with her wearing nothing but my undershirt. “My mother used to say if you kiss your honey, they won’t come true.”

“Did she actually say that?”

“No.”

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it sounds possible. Let’s try it.”

We tried it.

One thing led to another.

10

Afterward, she lit a cigarette. I lay watching the smoke drift up and turn blue in the occasional moonlight coming through the half-drawn curtains. I’d never leave the curtains that way at Neely Street, I thought. At Neely Street, in my other life, I’m always alone but still careful to close them all the way. Except when I’m peeking, that is. Lurking.

Just then I didn’t like myself very much.

“George?”

I sighed. “That’s not my name.”

“I know.”

I looked at her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying her cigarette guiltlessly, as people do in the Land of Ago. “I don’t have any inside information, if that’s what you’re thinking. But it stands to reason. The rest of your past is made up, after all. And I’m glad. I don’t like George all that much. It’s kind of . . . what’s that word you use sometimes? . . . kind of dorky.”

“How does Jake suit you?”

“As in Jacob?”

“Yes.”

“I like it.” She turned to me. “In the Bible, Jacob wrestled an angel. And you’re wrestling, too. Aren’t you?”

“I suppose I am, but not with an angel.” Although Lee Oswald didn’t make much of a devil, either. I liked George de Mohren--schildt better for the devil role. In the Bible, Satan’s a tempter who makes the offer and then stands aside. I hoped de Mohrenschildt was like that.

Sadie snubbed her cigarette. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were dark. “Are you going to be hurt?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going away? Because if you have to go away, I’m not sure I can stand it. I would have died before I said it when I was there, but Reno was a nightmare. Losing you for good . . .” She shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not sure I could stand that.”

“I want to marry you,” I said.

“My God,” she said softly. “Just when I’m ready to say it’ll never happen, Jake-alias-George says right now.”

“Not right now, but if the next week goes the way I hope it does . . . will you?”

“Of course. But I do have to ask one teensy question.”

“Am I single? Legally single? Is that what you want to know?”

She nodded.

“I am,” I said.

She let out a comic sigh and grinned like a kid. Then she sobered. “Can I help you? Let me help you.”

The thought turned me cold, and she must have seen it. Her lower lip crept into her mouth. She bit down on it with her teeth. “That bad, then,” she said musingly.

“Let’s put it this way: I’m currently close to a big machine full of sharp teeth, and it’s running full speed. I won’t allow you next to me while I’m monkeying with it.”

“When is it?” she asked. “Your . . . I don’t know . . . your date with destiny?”

“Still to be determined.” I had a feeling that I’d said too much already, but since I’d come this far, I decided to go a little farther. “Something’s going to happen this Wednesday night. Something I have to witness. Then I’ll decide.”

“Is there no way I can help you?”

“I don’t think so, honey.”

“If it turns out I can—”

“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate that. And you really will marry me?”

“Now that I know your name is Jake? Of course.”

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Glad I Read This March 13 2014
I grew up a huge Stephen King fan, reading pretty much everything he wrote; but that was back when he stuck to his great horror novels. As he moved away from straight horror, even though his novels always had a touch of the strange and/or supernatural to them, I found myself passing on more and more of his books, so that I can’t remember which of his books I read recently. This book looked interesting enough for me to give it a try, and I was so happy I did. Time travel is not exactly an original topic for fiction writers, but King deals with it as only he can.
The story's hero is Jake Epping, and he goes back through time through this strange (and totally unexplained) portal, always ending up on the exact same day in 1958, and in the same small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine. This means he can't go further back in time (and kill Hitler, for example), and in order to try to save JFK he has to live five years in the past to do it, making his way to Dallas and spying on Lee Harvey Oswald in the process.
This gives King an opportunity to explore the differences between the world of 50 years ago and today: Epping runs into very different politics, sexual mores, and societal values, although he’s pretty good at adjusting his attitude on the fly. But he not only has to learn to live in this world which is quite alien to him, he also has to fight against the past which does not want to be changed. And all this time he is never certain of what kind of impact his actions will have on the world in the future.
Epping is an everyman, not a super hero; he wants very much to set things right, but he doesn't necessarily have the best knowledge or the ability to do so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Stephen King Tour de Force March 2 2014
Verified Purchase
Stephen King blends time travel and love story together. It's been done before, but with King's story telling and twisted plot, 11/22/63 is a page turner.
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1.0 out of 5 stars My First and Last Stephen King Novel Jan. 19 2014
By CdnGuy
As you may have heard, this book is about time travel and the possibility of returning into the past to stop evil things from happening. If I had a time machine, I would go back and stop the younger me from picking up this 800+ page P.O.S.

I had never read any Stephen King before, but after enjoying many movies based on his books - The Shinning, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption - I thought it was about time that I read one of his novels, and not being a real horror fan, this seemed to be a good selection for me.

Stephen King wasn't able to come up with one real, genuine character here. His protagonist is approximately my age (mid-30s), yet when he sings in his car, he ends up singing all the lyrics to a Rolling Stone's song rather than a Nirvana, Oasis, or House of Pain tune that he would have grown up listening to in the U.S. in the early 90s when he would have been a TEENAGER. The mentality of this character is more like someone Stephen King's age rather than my own. Other characters are just paper-thin throwaways.

This is an awful book. It is horribly written. It is also incredibly boring.

Unless you have a time machine and can go back and undo past transgressions, stay away from this "book".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Dec 23 2013
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
The novel is about a time traveller who attempts to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. It is of no surprise that this sci-fi story quickly became a bestseller once published and stayed on that list for many additional weeks.

Those around in the 1950’s and early 1960’s would acknowledge that Mr. King did intensive research to accurately portray the real-life events and people of the time. We have minutia details such as the price of beer, article of clothing, appliance, etc. Boy did things change since then….

This isn't the usual horror stories fans are accustomed to but rather one that reaches an entire different audience, those readers who love historical fiction with a mixture of the ordinary and the supernatural, pretty weird but I assure you quite entertaining. It is also rife with answers: can we change history, can a man make a difference and does love surpass everything. But there is also a darker side: a what if…what if history is too mighty to redirect?

This is a book for weight lifters my electronic version once leaded on my Blackberry Playbook was over 1500 pages so it was clear in advance that the protagonist would undertake a long trial mission…..Out of the rabbit hole suddenly back on Sept 9, 1958, it’s 11.58am. Each trip and no matter how long you've stayed in the past….only two minutes have gone by in the present….

This novel is an intensely character based novel. The slow intimacy in the narrative is compelling. Mr. King’s manages to maintain suspense throughout the pages by inserting very effective twists on the theme and bringing back powerful emotions. 11/22/63 is a marvelous re-invention of time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Dynamic Read---great historical fiction work June 19 2013
By Asher TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Let me start by first stating that the only other Stephen King book I've read is "The Shining". I have never found my tastes to roam towards the horror genre, which was why I was apprehensive about this book. I consulted with some friends who had read it and asked their opinion--most said that it was quite a departure from his typical work.

After the first few chapters I was, indeed, hooked! I would not classify this story as a `horror' but there were some definitely creepy parts! What shocked me the most was the depth of writing and the stylized vocabulary from the 50's era, the Texans, and the New Englanders. It was very enjoyable to be immersed in a different time/place for a spell.

The first third of the book flew by! The `bubble in time', the thrilling Clayton-Family-Murder sequence and the romance between George a.k.a. Jake and Sadie were immersive. The second third in which George spends most of this time spying on Oswald was a little long for me. I lost interest and began to long for some action and a conclusion to the endless eaves-dropping. The final third was very interesting--the harmonies and the repetitions that kept occurring in the past were chilling at times. And of course, the `altered' present when George/Jake returned to 2011 was obviously a shock.

At the conclusion, I found myself wondering what really would have happened had Kennedy been saved. I'm not American, but I found the idea very interesting none-the-less. Also, not being American, I learned a lot about the history surrounding the event of Kennedy's assassination. The 'Book Depository' was unknown to me and though I knew the name of Lee Harvey Oswald (I live in Canada, not under a rock!) I really didn't know anything about him or who he was.
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