Far from a doting Stephen King fan, I actually marked down the last King novel I read (Revival). But this 11.22.63 was as close to perfect story-telling as you will get. This book had it all: deep characters; love; heartbreak; a sense of the epic history-changing mission replete with twists and turns. The pacing was perfect and King managed to avoid his proclivity to draw scenes out unnecessarily.
*Minor spoilers alert*
The plot is a time-travel themed novel where a lonely English high-school teacher (King brining out personal experience here) is convinced to go back in time to save JFK in order to make the world a better place. After a healthy dose of emotional blackmail he agrees, but only after running a few test runs to achieve more modest goals (save a women and her family’s lives from a rampaging violent ex and a women unintentionally killed in a forest by a hunter’s stray bullet). He discovers the past in obdurate and resistant to change.
Books are usually catergorised into plot-driven or character-driven and an author must necessarily make Hobson’s choices. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is entirely plot-driven with the characters playing little other role than to progress the plot. King’s book lie on the other end of the spectrum, where the characterisation is profound and you feel as if you’re peering into real people’s lives. The down side is that you need to invest time and effort into his novels on the promise that the final pay off will be worth the investment. This novel managed to achieve the impossible by scoring top grades in both categories. Perhaps because the central thread that binds this novel together is a well-known historical event, King is forced to keep on topic and the thread pings him back on course just as you feel as if he’s beginning to stray.
King is peeved by being types casted as a horror-writer. He is at pains to point out he is a story-teller who just tells stories, whatever they may be. This book, in my humble opinion, is his magnum opus that crowns a (dare I say it) supernatural ability in story-telling.
Paradoxically, I’m left with ambiguous feelings about reading another King. 11.22.63 was such a masterpiece that I know the next King novel I reach for will not reach the same dizzying heights.