11/22/63 is a story about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK. Jake Epping happens upon a portal that allows him to go back in time to 1958. He can return to his own time but each time he uses the portal any previous changes he’s made to the past are reset. In effect, as the book puts it, each trip back is the first trip. This creates a Groundhogs Day like effect that allows Jake to go back in time, make changes, return to the future to check on the results, and have to option to go back in time again with a clean slate if he’s not happy with the results.
The story is really well written. I was born in 1977 so the barrier to 1958 for me is more than one of memory. But the verisimilitude is so tangible it pops right out of the book and automatically causes my mind to create associations with dozens of references in my head from that time period from the music to the types of cars to the way that people dressed and spoke.
Time travel has been done to death but this story is just different enough that I didn’t mind the cliché. Besides, the story itself isn’t about time travel. It’s almost more of an excuse for the author to go back to a time in his life and explore the consequences of making choices there. The characters in the story are so vivid and powerful that I found myself missing them, as is common with really good fiction, after I finished the story.
Although the story was written by someone who grew up in the 60’s the main character is of my generation and I felt like there were too many cultural and technological differences that were too easily accepted by Jake. Minorities using different bathrooms from Caucasians and it being improper for a man to stay the night at a woman’s house if they weren’t married are two examples. It’s not that these things aren’t addressed it’s that Jake accepts them too easily and too readily. My mind had a lot of trouble glossing over the differences so quickly though it is entirely possible not everyone from my generation, or even the majority, would have so much trouble accepting and adapting to these differences.
THE BOTTOM LINE
11/22/63 is a great story that flew by on my Kindle to the point where I was sad when the ride was finally over and didn’t even notice that it was twice the length of a normal novel. The only thing that keeps it at four out of five stars is that I found the main character’s assimilation to the past a little too smooth and the book didn’t completely satisfy my appetite for all the possibilities that could come from changing history.