"The past is obdurate. It doesn't want to be changed." (p. 232)
ob-dur-ate [OB-duu-rit] adj. Stubborn; unyielding.
Alright, I know, I'm pandering to the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, but first, I just HAD to read Stephen King's 11/22/63, and second, why NOT think and talk and write about it this week?
True confessions: I read it more than a year ago. But it's one of those books I've wanted to let ferment.
There's a heap of reasons I liked 11/22/63, but here are my top 8 reasons:
1. Stephen King: I haven't read everything he's written (not by a long shot) but nearly everything I've read, I've liked.
2. Settings (or even just passing references) I know and recognize: Lisbon Falls (including Kennebec Fruit, Worumbo Mill, and Route 196), Lewiston, Brunswick Naval Air Station, "Derry" aka thinly-veiled Dexter, Maine: "I took Route 7 when the Mile-a-Minute Highway petered down to an asphalt-patched two-lane, and twenty miles or so north of Newport, I came over a rise and saw Derry hulking on the west bank of the Kenduskeag under a cloud of pollution from God knew how many paper and textile mills, all operating full bore." (p.121)
I can even envision the Dallas settings pretty well because I have family who live there, and I've been to the Book Depository and Dealey Plaza.
3. We get to the good action FAST. Jake steps down the rabbit hole on page 30!
4. He sets the scene of ordinary life in the early 1960s. I didn't live it, but I'd like to think I got a good feeling for it in this book. I think I'm too young to really appreciate the vividness with which King describes the Maine of his youth.... dreary, sooty, smelly mills: "I could smell the powerful effluent pour from the triple stacks [of the Worumbo Mill], strong enough to make my eyes sting. An EPA inspector would have taken one sniff of that shit and shut the whole operation down in a New England minute. Except... I didn't think there were any EPA inspectors in the vicinity. I wasn't even sure the EPA had been invented yet." (p.31) Not the eco-conscious, post-Muskie, Clean-Water-Act and Clean-Air-Act era that we enjoy today. And the society and formality of the time. That men wore ties and hats, women wore dresses and gloves. And how much simpler the time was, especially in terms of technology.
5. Stephen King turning himself into the main character, in a way. It's a first-person narrative, and Jake Epping/George Amberson is an English teacher in Lisbon Falls before his adventures. He talks to us: "I know the basics of suspense fiction - I ought to, I've read enough thrillers in my lifetime - and the prime rule is to keep the reader guessing." (p.59) Haha. I love it.
6. It's a long, complicated story with characters worth enjoying. Ordinary men and women who enter Jake/George's life. A nice love story. A great adventure story. Thugs. Lovers. Suspense galore.
7. That Stephen King thought this through REALLY well. Any time-travel tale can get pretty tripped up by the paradoxes that arise (think Back to the Future and everything Marty needs to do to get his parents together!). It's "timey-wimey," as Doctor Who would say. But Stephen King's rabbit hole has special characteristics that make it an even more interesting, more complicated feature. Without being a spoiler here, I love who the Green-Yellow-Orange-Black Card Man is, what he does, why he's doing it, and what happens to him. The past is obdurate. It doesn't want to be changed. Yummy sci-fi goodness.
8. And it isn't until nearly page 800 that we learn that as tragic as Kennedy's death was, without it, the world would be a much fouler place indeed. This novel pulls you along, much as the past is pulling, pulling, pulling at Jake Epping/George Amberson. Much like It's a Wonderful Life, what happens, for good or for bad, does shape everything that comes after. Is it fate? Do we have a predetermined role to play? I love alternative-history novels. In fact, I don't fancy myself a novelist (at least not yet), but I have some ideas for what-ifs...
So, where were you on 11/22/63?