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11/22/63, by Stephen King

As a teenager, there was a period when I read literature about the Kennedy assassination with great interest - starting with Harold Weisberg's classic Whitewash and then working through various others. Like a lot of casual readers, I was easily seduced by the notion that Something Big Was Behind It All; the explanation that one lone individual with an imagined grudge did it seemed too easy. The inconsistencies in the official account are numerous, and it's easy enough to understand that, having got hold of a narrative, the investigators fitted the evidence to it rather than vice versa.

However, other books like Gerald Posner’s Case Closed swung me back again to the notion that Oswald had acted alone, in particular by exposing some of the rhetorical dishonesty on the pro-conspiracy side. (For one concrete example, compare the analysis of Oswald's "curtain rods" story by pro-conspiracy and pro-lone-gunman partisans.) I retained some niggling doubt about the ballistics until I saw a BBC documentary in 1993 that set my mind at rest on that point too. So basically I now accept that the Warren Commission, William Manchester, Norman Mailer and all those guys got it right.

Also a friend of mine interviewed Oswald's friends in Minsk as a researcher for this documentary, and came to the conclusion that Oswald was loopy enough to have done it alone (though would still have needed a lucky shot).

So now Stephen King gives his protagonist a way of going back in time from 2011 to 1958, with the mission of preventing the assassination, and therefore stopping the Vietnam War in its tracks and bringing about a better fifty years for American history. Our hero loves, fights, loses, wins, and then discovers that when he gets what he wants, it may not be what he wanted it to be. All the time travel cliches are there, but all done really well; I've often found Stephen King nostalgic for the 1950's/60s, both the good and bad parts of that time, and here he is able to indulge himself as a tourist of the past. The level of circumstantial and emotional detail is tremendous; one can almost smell Texas. (The time portal is located in Maine, which allows King to employ his love of his home state to great effect.)

With all that, I was a bit disappointed with the end of the book, where the real conspiracy is revealed and the story defaulted back into all the things I don't like about Stephen King's writing. But that was only for the last few dozen pages of a very long book. People who like King more than I do will like the book more than I did, and I liked it a lot.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 6th, 2015 12:27 pm (UTC)
I am a King fan of ~30 years or so and I've resigned myself to being mildly disappointed with the ending of most of his plots now. The journey to that point is usually worth it, so I put up with it, but if the main text starts to slip too I may give up. This one wasn't too bad, as it goes; Revival was great right up to shortly before the end at which point I nearly ditched the book entirely! Glad I didn't, since the bit after the plot's climax was good too, but he really needs a stricter editor or some new ideas.
Sep. 6th, 2015 01:20 pm (UTC)
I don't t hink King is capable of a good ending. Even The Stand ends badly. But I'm always happy to read whatever weirdness he's come up with lately.
Sep. 6th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
I wasn't wildly impressed by the way The Stand ended. I enjoyed The Shining much more.
Sep. 6th, 2015 01:28 pm (UTC)
The Shining has the best end of any King book. But it does get bogged down with the competing interests of the kid trying to remember about the boiler and the animal hedges moving in.
Sep. 6th, 2015 02:33 pm (UTC)
His short stories by and large have endings that work perfectly. (Strawberry Spring and Survivor Type, for instance.) He just needs to be told to stop spoiling good stories by inserting "and then the monsters/aliens/other dimensional horrors turned up" at every available opportunity. :)

(The Pegg/Frost film "The World's End" has a milder version of the same problem. Could have been a much more interesting film if they'd toned it down somewhat.)
Sep. 6th, 2015 02:38 pm (UTC)
Ooh, excellent point about The World's End. I hadnt realized before how closely it followed the Stephen King pattern of being enjoyable right up until an ending I hated.
Sep. 6th, 2015 01:19 pm (UTC)
American Tabloid is my favorite novel about the JFK killing.

What I found interesting is that both that book and King's book both seem to be saying that the world was better off with JFK dead.
Sep. 6th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
I really liked this book. It made me cry in a few places.
Sep. 7th, 2015 08:48 am (UTC)
This post reminded me that I had Finders Keepers waiting on a shelf (the sequel to Mr Mercedes, a non-horror that was pretty good) so I started it at 10pm last night. At 1am I remembered I should probably sleep. :)

I am really enjoying it but he's sneaked a "possibly something supernatural" bit in again which has annoyed me. (It's a passing reference and nothing major or spoilery - at least, that I know of - but FCOL Stephen, WHY? It was just fine without it!)
Sep. 8th, 2015 02:56 pm (UTC)
It comes back later, but still goes nowhere.

That aside, I liked Finders Keepers quite a bit more than I expected to. I generally hate things that open with trying to get into the mind of the criminal and nearly didn't bother, but got sucked in in very short order.
Sep. 8th, 2015 03:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, I finished it not too long after that comment. I didn't mind the "mind of the criminal" stuff - he's not bad at it at all (maybe writing all those villains and monsters gave him some insight?) - and both FK and Mr Mercedes were a good, gripping read. (Hodges reminds me a bit of the guy in Road Work, but nicer. I do hope there's at least one more with him in.) I just really don't like that little touch of supernatural - it wasn't at all necessary or helpful to the book.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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