From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
First edition cover
|Publication date||November 8, 2011|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2013)|
First edition cover
|Publication date||November 8, 2011|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
11/22/63 is a novel by Stephen King about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which occurred on November 22, 1963 (the novel's titular date). The novel was announced on King's official site on March 2, 2011. A short excerpt was released online on June 1, 2011, and another excerpt was published in the October 28, 2011 issue of Entertainment Weekly The novel was published on November 8, 2011, and quickly became a number-one bestseller. It stayed on the list for an additional seventeen weeks. 11/22/63 won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for the 2012 British Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the 2012 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
The novel required deep research to accurately portray the late 1950s and early 1960s. King commented on the amount of research it required, saying "I've never tried to write anything like this before. It was really strange at first, like breaking in a new pair of shoes." The novel's time-travel premise marks it as science fiction, specifically the alternative history subgenre, although the extensive period research undertaken by King, dealing with real-life events and people between 1958 and 1963, gives it a strong feeling of historical fiction.
According to King, the idea for the novel came to him in 1971, just before the release of his first novel, Carrie. He was going to title it Split Track. However, he felt a historical novel required more research than he was willing to do at the time, and greater literary talent than he possessed. Like his 2009 novel, Under the Dome, he abandoned the project, returning to the story later in life.
King first talked publicly about the idea in Marvel Spotlight: The Dark Tower, an issue of Marvel Spotlight published on January 27, 2007, prior to the beginning of the ongoing comic book adaptation of King's Dark Tower series. In a piece in the magazine entitled "An Open Letter From Stephen King", he writes about possible original ideas for comics:
I'd like to tell a time-travel story where this guy finds a diner that connects to 1958... you always go back to the same day. So one day he goes back and just stays. Leaves his 2007 life behind. His goal? To get up to November 22, 1963, and stop Lee Harvey Oswald. He does, and he's convinced he's just FIXED THE WORLD. But when he goes back to '07, the world's a nuclear slag-heap. Not good to fool with Father Time. So then he has to go back again and stop himself... only he's taken on a fatal dose of radiation, so it's a race against time.
Commenting on the book as a historical fiction, King said "This might be a book where we really have a chance to get an audience who's not my ordinary audience. Instead of people who read horror stories, people who read The Help or People of the Book might like this book".
King and longtime researcher Russ Dorr prepared for the novel by reading many historical documents and newspaper archives from the period, looking at clothing and appliance ads, sports scores and television listings. The book contains detailed minutiae such as the 1958 price of a pint of root beer (10 cents) or a haircut (40 cents). King and Dorr traveled to Dallas, where they visited Oswald's apartment building (now a private residence), found the home of Gen. Edwin Walker (a target of an assassination attempt by Oswald), and had a private tour of the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository. King studied various conspiracy theories, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone. King met with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, an assistant to Lyndon B. Johnson and the author of books about several presidents, and used some of her ideas of worst-case political scenarios in the absence of Kennedy's assassination.
The trade hardcover edition features a dust jacket that is a faux-newspaper front page, with the front of the jacket featuring articles recounting the real historical event of Kennedy's assassination, and the back recounting the Lee Harvey Oswald 11/22/63 assassination as just an aborted assassination attempt that Kennedy survives unscathed. The newspaper headlines were written by Stephen King. In addition to the regular trade edition, Scribner produced a signed limited edition of 1,000 copies, 850 of which were made available for sale beginning on November 8, 2011 (ISBN 978-1-4516-6385-3). This edition features a different dust jacket, exclusive chapter-heading photos, and a DVD. Due to a web site problem on November 8, most copies remained unsold and a drawing ran from November 10 to 11 to sell the remaining copies.
There was also a limited edition of 700 published in the United Kingdom. It was a slipcased hardcover with deluxe binding, photographic endpapers, and a facsimile signature, and included a DVD.
On July 24, 2012, Gallery Books published a trade paperback edition of the novel (ISBN 978-1451627299), which contains an additional "book club kit", featuring an interview with Stephen King about 11/22/63, a set of discussion questions, as well as a period playlist with King's commentary and recipes.
Jake Epping is a divorced high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The book begins with Jake recounting an emotional experience from his teaching career, when he assigned his evening GED class with an essay entitled "The Day That Changed My Life." One of his students, a disabled janitor named Harry Dunning, writes about how his alcoholic father murdered his mother and three siblings with a sledgehammer on Halloween night in 1958, an attack that left Harry permanently brain damaged and crippled. Jake is deeply affected by the essay and gives Harry an A+. When the appreciative Harry later earns his GED, Jake invites him to dinner at a diner he frequents, owned by Al Templeton.
Two years after this event, Al asks Jake to meet him at the diner. Jake is shocked to see that Al seems to have aged years from when Jake encountered him at the diner the previous day. Al explains that he's dying and that his appearance is attributable to him having spent several years living in the past. Al's method of time travel is a time portal he discovered in his diner's pantry, which he's used to transport himself to 1958.
Doubting Al's story at first, Jake travels through the portal, initially encountering an addled wino that Al has dubbed the "Yellow Card Man." Jake spends an hour in 1958 before returning to the present, after which Al explains that he's figured out the basics of how the portal functions:
Al's ambition had been to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy, believing that doing so would prevent the Vietnam War and subsequent events like the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. To complete this mission, Al endeavored to live in the past until 1963, but only made it to 1962 before developing terminal lung cancer due to his lifelong habit of smoking. His dying wish is for Jake to carry out the mission on his behalf.
The main challenge is that the "obdurate" past seems to throw up obstacles to prevent history from being changed. Al has learned from experience that this resistance is proportional to the magnitude of the historical change.
Jake decides to prevent the attack on Harry's family as a precursor to taking up Al's cause. Before Jake departs, Al provides him with a fake ID to create the alias "George Amberson" as well as a supply of 1950's era cash he's accumulated.
Jake emerges from the portal to find that something is unexpectedly different: the card in the band of the Yellow Card Man's hat has turned orange and the wino seems to recognize Jake this time. Jake buys a convertible Ford Sunliner for $315, travels to Derry, Maine and proceeds to observe Harry's father, Frank, in the weeks leading up to the attack. Unfortunately, his plan to prevent the attack is hampered by interference from the "obdurate" past; while Jake's intervention does stop Frank from killing the entire family, he isn't able to stop him from killing one of Harry's brothers and badly injuring Harry's mother. Injured himself, Jake retreats through the portal back to 2011.
That night, he places an anonymous call to Ellen Dunning—Harry's younger sister who'd died in the original timeline—to gauge whether his attempt to change Harry's life for the better had been successful. He's disappointed to learn that Harry, while spared the brain damage he'd sustained in the original timeline, was drafted into the military due to being able-bodied, and subsequently killed during the Vietnam War.
When Jake goes to rendezvous with Al at the diner the next morning, he is shocked to discover that Al has committed suicide by overdosing on painkillers. Jake then takes Al's detailed notes on Oswald, plus a list of past sporting event outcomes to make bets with, and returns to 1958, resetting the changes he'd made on his previous trip to the past. Reemerging at the beginning of the loop on September 9, 1958, he discovers yet another startling change: the Yellow Card Man has killed himself, and the card in his hat has turned black.
Jake purchases the same Ford Sunliner and returns to Derry, utilizing the knowledge gained during his first trip to the past to more efficiently dispose of Frank Dunning. After shooting Dunning in a cemetery, Jake flees Derry and eventually settles in Florida. Out of boredom, he procures a mail-order Bachelor's degree from an Oklahoma diploma mill, and spends the remainder of the school year substitute teaching. After winning a large sum of money on a reckless bet with a local bookie, Jake experiences a strong premonition that his life is in danger, and flees Florida scant hours before his rental home is fire-bombed by the bookie's henchmen.
Jake drives to Texas to await Oswald's arrival, but quickly decides not to spend the interim years before the assassination living in Dallas because the city feels "wrong" to him. Instead, he drives south and randomly ends up in Jodie, a pleasant small town located a few hours away from Dallas. Utilizing his falsified credentials, he again finds work as a substitute teacher, and after making a good impression on the school's principal and retiring librarian, Miz Mimi, Jake is invited to become a full-time English teacher at Denholm Consolidated High School. Fitting well into the community, Jake becomes romantically involved with the school's new librarian, Sadie Dunhill, who came to Jodie from Georgia to escape from her mentally disturbed husband, John Clayton.
Jake quickly falls in love with the beautiful Sadie, but is torn between his duty to prevent the Kennedy assassination and his desire to abandon the mission to spend the rest of his life with her. Their relationship is further strained when Sadie becomes increasingly suspicious of his secretive behavior and use of anachronistic slang. When Sadie confronts him with these suspicions, Jake refuses to confide in her and she angrily breaks off the relationship. Sadie then departs for Reno—where she'll be able to divorce Clayton after establishing a six-week temporary residency. Jake is chagrined to learn that the school principal has also discovered that "George Amberson's" mail-order diploma and references are falsified, and he reluctantly leaves the life he'd cultivated in Jodie. He rents an apartment across the street from Oswald's Fort Worth residence, and monitors the would-be assassin's activities via audio bugs and a parabolic microphone.
After several weeks, a disconsolate Jake reconnects with Sadie and reveals his true identity and mission. Jake is able to convince her that he is telling the truth by correctly predicting the outcome of both the Cuban Missile Crisis and a long shot boxing match that is listed in Al's notes. Her faith in Jake restored, Sadie lends support to his efforts. Meanwhile, Jake faces a moral dilemma: the fastest way to be done with the mission would be to kill Oswald well before the Kennedy assassination. Jake, however, is hesitant to do so because of the possibility that Oswald might not have acted alone. He decides to wait until April 10, 1963 when, according to Al's notes, Oswald will make an unsuccessful assassination attempt on a retired Army general. Jake decides that if he can confirm that Oswald indeed was involved in the shooting of the general, that he'll have the evidence needed to morally justify taking out Oswald.
While Jake is in Dallas awaiting the attempt on the general's life, he receives a call from Sadie's ex-husband, John Clayton, who has tracked Sadie down in Jodie and taken her hostage. Clayton threatens to kill Sadie if Jake involves the authorities and doesn't get to her house within three and a half hours. Jake races to Jodie and manages to save Sadie, but arrives too late to prevent Clayton from mutilating her face with a knife. In the aftermath of the attack, Clayton commits suicide.
When Sadie is taken to the hospital, Jake learns that the primitive surgical techniques of the early 1960s cannot prevent permanent disfigurement. Jake offers to bring Sadie back to 2011 with him after he completes his mission, where modern plastic surgery would be able to restore her beauty. After some consideration, Sadie agrees.
As Sadie's medical bills begin to strain his financial resources, Jake's reluctantly places another high stakes wager on a boxing match, earning a large sum of money. Assuming that the match must have been fixed, the suspicious bookie and his goons track Jake to his home in Fort Worth and severely beat him with a pipe. In the attack, Jake sustains internal injuries, his arm is broken, his left knee is injured, and he receives a blow to the head that renders him partially amnesic.
Jake spends three months recovering from the beating and resultant memory loss, unable to recall the details of his mission in the past. While being nursed back to health by Sadie, Jake suddenly remembers that he'd hidden Al's notes in a bank safety deposit box. Rereading the notes helps him regain his memory just in time for Kennedy's visit to Dallas—but with his physical debilitation Jake doubts that he will be able to prevent Oswald from carrying out the assassination. When Sadie offers to help, Jake initially refuses, fearing that the "obdurate" past will jeopardize her safety, but reluctantly changes his mind after she convinces him that he won't succeed without her assistance.
On the morning of the assassination attempt, Jake and Sadie race toward downtown Dallas, where the "obdurate" past throws numerous deadly obstacles in their way. They manage to reach the Texas School Book Depository moments before Kennedy's motorcade drives past. Jake successfully distracts Oswald, who instead fatally wounds Sadie. The noise from their confrontation draws the attention of the Secret Service and police, who shoot through the window and kill Oswald. Sadie dies in Jake's arms.
In the aftermath of the foiled assassination attempt, "George Amberson" and Sadie become national heroes, even though the authorities have questions about the nature of their involvement. After Jake is personally thanked by President Kennedy and his wife, the FBI suggests that Jake "disappear." Agonized over Sadie's death, Jake decides to return to 2011 to reset the timeline and undo Sadie's untimely death. Before he leaves Dallas, Jake hears a news report about a massive earthquake in California and suspects that this event might be related to his changing history.
After traveling back to Lisbon Falls, Jake finds that the Yellow Card Man has been replaced by a younger man whose card is green. The Green Card Man reveals that he is part of a group that monitors time anomalies, and further explains that other portals exist in the universe, and that these portals are temporary "bubbles" that will eventually disappear as the physical environment in which they reside changes. He cautions that traveling back to 2011 does not "reset" the timeline as Al believed, but instead creates alternate timelines. The more divergent timelines that are spawned and the greater the magnitude of the changes made to the original timeline, the more unstable reality becomes. The Green Card Man advises Jake to return to the future to see the damage his changes to the past have wrought.
When Jake returns to 2011, he discovers that the United States has been ravaged by atomic holocaust and frequent natural disasters. Stumbling through Lisbon Falls, he comes across a wheelchair-bound Harry Dunning and saves him from being attacked by teenage thugs who are covered with sores caused by radiation poisoning.
When questioned, Harry outlines the history of the world after November 22, 1963. Kennedy was re-elected, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was never passed. Controversial Alabama governor George Wallace became president in 1968 and escalated the Vietnam conflict into a nuclear war that precipitated numerous other atomic conflicts around the globe. The state of Maine seceded from the United States and is now a Canadian province. Massive earthquakes have sunk several Japanese islands, and scientists predict that the earthquakes will escalate in intensity until they eventually tear the world apart circa 2080.
Jake is distraught by the knowledge that his actions have led to these calamities, and travels back to 1958. He again encounters the Green Card Man, who implores him to return to 2011 and allow the portal to close permanently.
Desperate to be reunited with Sadie, Jake instead runs away, knowing that the Green Card Man can't leave the vicinity of the portal. He subsequently goes into seclusion, terrified that every action he takes in the past could potentially trigger a butterfly effect that wreaks havoc upon reality. After several weeks of consternation about what to do, Jake reluctantly returns to 2011 and the time portal dissipates for good.
The next day, Jake leaves Lisbon Falls and settles in Massachusetts. He frantically searches old newspaper archives to learn what became of Sadie, and is overjoyed to discover that she survived her ex-husband's attack and went on to lead an extraordinary life of civic accomplishment. Jake also comes across a present day news article indicating that Sadie will be honored as Jodie's "Citizen of the Century" at the town's upcoming July 4 celebration.
Jake travels to Jodie for the festival and encounters Sadie, now an 80-year old woman. When he approaches her and introduces himself as "George Amberson," he notices that even though they've never met in this reality, the elderly Sadie experiences a glimmer of deja vu—a testimony to how strong their love had been in the alternate timeline.
The novel concludes as the now disproportionally aged couple share a final dance to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," their favorite song from the divergent timeline where they'd met and fallen in love in 1961.
Stephen King published an alternative ending on his official website on January 24, 2012, in which Sadie marries another man, subsequently having five children and eleven grandchildren. This ending was changed to the published version at the suggestion of Joe Hill, King's son, a writer himself.
The reviews for 11/22/63 have been generally positive, with The New York Times selecting the novel as one of its top five fiction books of the year, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal calling 11/22/63 King's "best novel in more than a decade". The review aggregate site Metacritic judged 30 out of 36 reviews as positive, with four mixed and two negative. NPR book critic Alan Cheuse found no fault with the structure, commenting "I wouldn't have [King] change a single page." USA Today gave the novel four out of four stars noting the novel retains the suspenseful tension of King's earlier works but is not of the same genre. "[The novel] is not typical Stephen King." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also commented on genre change and pacing but felt the writer has built the narrative tightly enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. "The pages of “11/22/63” fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick." The review in the Houston Chronicle called the novel "one of King’s best books in a long time" but also "overlong" noting "As is usually the case with King’s longer books, there’s a lot of self-indulgent fat in 11/22/63 that could have trimmed." The review in the Bangor Daily News commented that the novel "[is] another winner", but provided no critical review of the plot construction. Lev Grossman, in reviewing the novel for Time magazine, called the novel "the work of a master craftsman" but also commented that "the wires go slack from time to time" and the book wanders from genre to genre, particularly in the middle. More pointedly, Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin called the novel "a misguided effort in story and writing". Ulin's primary criticism is the conceit of the story, which requires the reader to follow two plotlines simultaneously: historical fiction built upon the Kennedy assassination as well as the tale of a time traveling English teacher, adds a page load to the novel that Ulin finds excessive.
Awards and honors
In The Langoliers, one of the characters, while speculating on the nature of time travel, wonders if it is really possible to interfere in events that have already happened. There he briefly mentions the JFK assassination, asking whether Kennedy could have been saved.
They also make a mention of Kennedy in several of the books from The Dark Tower series, where one of the characters states that Kennedy was "the last great gunslinger".
King uses his fictional town of Derry, Maine as the setting where Harry Dunning grew up, which he also used for his novel It. When Jake goes there, he learns of a recent spate of child murders by a killer clown. Jake meets Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, two of the protagonists from It, who seem to recognize that he is somehow different from most people. Jake senses in Derry an evil, murderous presence, which he believes is shared by Dunning's father. He decides to spend part of his time writing a novel about the child-killing clown, to help provide cover and disguise his purpose as a time-traveler. Jake also meets pharmacist Norbert Keene, also from It.
While Jake plots the murder of Frank Dunning, he considers the possibility of being arrested and thrown into fictional Shawshank State Prison, a reference to King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.
Sadie mentions dancing with Don Hagarty at the school dance. Don appeared in It as one half of a homosexual couple who encounter Pennywise.
A red and white Plymouth Fury is referenced several times in the book, which is the make and model of the title car in the novel Christine
Jim LaDue quarterbacks the Jodie football team to victory over a team from Arnette, Texas, the town where Stu Redman from The Stand is from.
On August 12, 2011, before the novel's release, it was announced that Jonathan Demme had attached himself to write, produce, and direct a film adaptation of 11/22/63 with King serving as executive producer. However, on December 6, 2012, Demme announced that he withdrew from the project, after disputes with King over what to include in the script. On April 26, 2013, it was reported that Warner Bros. Television and J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions were in negotiations for the rights to adapt the novel as a TV series or miniseries.