By Karen Hall
It was on sale everywhere last Christmas, catching shoppers' attention both with the author's name - Stephen King - and the title, which is numbers instead of words: "11/22/63."
Looking closer, you could see the front cover reproduced a newspaper with the headline, "JFK slain in Dallas, LBJ takes oath." The back cover showed a similar paper, but the headline is "JFK escapes assassination, first lady also OK!"
How could that be? Everybody knows President Kennedy was assassinated that day in Dallas.
What if it hadn't happened?
Going further, what if someone traveled back in time from 2011 to 1963 and saved Kennedy?
That's what this intriguing 850-page book is about.
Jake Epping, a divorced high school teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, is introduced to a "rabbit hole" that returns anyone who steps through it to 11:58 a.m. Sept. 9, 1958. The man who found the rabbit hole in the store room of his diner is Al Templeton, who's determined to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
He predicts this will save Robert Kennedy's and Martin Luther King's lives too, as well as countless Americans who died in Vietnam, because, he thinks, JFK would not have escalated the war the way Lyndon Johnson did.
Unfortunately, Al finds out he has terminal cancer, and isn't going to live long enough to carry out his plan to eliminate Lee Harvey Oswald. Thus the choice of Jake to carry out the job instead.
There are some ground rules: however long you stay in the past, only two minutes have elapsed when you return to 2011. Every time you go back through the rabbit hole, it's as if what you did on the previous trip never happened. So someone whose life you saved on one trip has to be saved all over again the next time around.
Jake is intrigued by a brief visit to "The Land of Ago" as he calls it, but isn't sure he's going to accept Al's challenge to save Kennedy. Al, however, commits suicide by overdosing on his pain pills. Jake finds his body, and a note that begs him "Do it right the first time...don't back down. ...It's on you buddy...Save him, okay? Save Kennedy and everything changes."
Thus Jake begins another life as George Amberson, the identity Al has prepared for him. He passes the time from September 1958 until November 1963 teaching, writing, spying on Oswald, and falling in love.
Al discovered, and Jake confirms, "the past doesn't want to change." The final trip to the Texas School Book Depository in the minutes before Kennedy's motorcade is due to pass takes on the quality of a nightmare, as Jake and his beloved Sadie struggle through all kinds of obstacles.
I'm not going to tell you what happens - you'll have to read the book yourself. Just a hint: it's happy and it's sad, and the 2011 Jake returns to is not at all like the world he left.
I got this book as a Christmas gift last year and loved it. I picked "11/22/63" up again this month to read while I waited for some new gift books. It sucked me in just as it had on the first reading, and I finished it way too soon. (Then I picked up "Threat" by Richard Jessop, but that's another story.)
I highly recommend "11/22/63." You can find it at the Marshall County Memorial Library, or buy it from Amazon.com - a used copy can cost less than $7.
Born in 1947, Stephen King has written 50 novels, five works of non-fiction, and nearly 200 short stories. I was a big fan of his early work like "Christine," "Firestarter," and "The Stand," and have read many of King's other books with varying degrees of enjoyment. I think even King would admit his huge body of work is uneven in quality, but "11/22/63" deserves a place near the top of the list. It's well written, meticulously researched, and hard to put down.
Try it - you'll like it!