Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cannonball Read #18: 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Oh, Stephen, Stephen. I've been a faithful reader of yours for years, loving your relaxed way of writing, the way your characters were everyday Joes finding themselves in unusual circumstances, the uneasy sense of evil lurking under their metaphorical beds. Then you decide to venture into new territory, and why not? Artists need to reinvent themselves to keep being relevant. Still, there was something not quite right about your latest offering.

The titular date is the date of the assassination of president Kennedy that took place in Dallas almost 50 years ago. Jake, our hero, wasn't even born back then. He's a teacher in his thirties, recently divorced, living in 2011. Until one day, his good friend Al shows him the portal to the past he's found in his hamburger joint's storage room.

Everyone's favourite teacher will go back to the past to change the world. But everyone knows what happens if you meddle with the past, right? Big no-no.

It's a bit slow in the beginning. Then it picks up speed when Jake travels back to 1958, and King is back to his usual, much-loved depictions of small-town Maine life. Then it sags. Big time. But by then you're two-thirds into this gigantic novel and you just have to see how it ends.

This book could have been shorter by 200 pages or so. A large part of it is dedicated to following Lee Oswald's life the years prior to the assassination. I am not American, so maybe that's why this whole part of the Kennedy assassination mythology left me yawning? There was something unlikeable about Jake, too. It's one thing to drop your main character into a situation where he has no choice but to save himself and the others that are in it. It's yet another thing to create a character that willingly takes it upon himself to save the world. It tastes hubris.

Not really a book I would recommend to anyone except die-hard King fans and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. But I will keep buying his books, because when he produces a good novel, he's a lot of fun to read.

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