“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” – Stephen King, 11.22.63
11.22.63 was written by Stephen King, a writer usually prone to writing horror novels, such as The Shining and It; King’s story of a man who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination is far from classic horror, but not too distant to not give the reader chills. Apart from the fact that his writing makes the storyline feel so real, as though you are truly stepping through a rabbit hole and into the past, 11.22.63 recounts the days leading up to the fateful shooting of the 35th President of the United States of America by the troubled Marxist Lee Harvey Oswald.
The novel, as well as having a romantic and endearingly vintage back story (there’s always a romantic back story, isn’t there?), deals (albeit fictionally) with the lingering questions about the Kennedy assassination: did Oswald act alone? Was George de Mohrenschildt, Oswald’s apparent friend, in on the attempt? According to King, de Mohrenschildt knew of Oswald’s attempt to assassinate General Edwin Walker on April 1o, 1963, just months before the events in Dallas took place; the protagonist, Jake Epping (otherwise known in the past as George Amberson), in his journey into the past, manages to close that window of uncertainty, making sure that Oswald acted alone by claiming to be part of the CIA or FBI (it’s not specified) and threatening de Mohrenschildt, which, in King’s version of the past, works, verifying that Oswald acted alone.
The actual historical moment those three bullets were fired at the President’s motorcade are truly horrifying. I don’t want to burden anyone with the graphic, awful truth of that second when the President was struck in the head by Oswald’s bullet, but I can assure you that no piece of literature could ever describe the… horror of that moment. There is no other word which describes it.
The tense build up in 11.22.63 justifies the slowness in which King delivers the crucial, climactic moment: does Jake Epping/George Amberson prevent the assassination of the most powerful man on the Earth (in 1963)? What does the present (or rather 2011, when the novel was written) look like because of this drastic change in history? Was Vietnam as big a failure as it was in our version of the past? Does Epping/Amberson go back to 1958 (where the rabbit hole comes out) and reset history, because the consequences are too dire?
Well, you’ll just have to read it, won’t you?