Alternate History, Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Slipstream Fiction

11/22/63 by Stephen King #BookReview

11/22/63 is the first book I read by Stephen King. And judging by the glowing reviews this book has received on GoodReads, I surely started at the top of the hill.

11/22/63 is the first book I’ve read from the alternate history and slipstream fiction genre. Slipstream is a kind of fiction that is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction. Alternate history is a genre of fiction consisting of stories that revolve around a ‘what-if?’ plot based upon a past historical event.

How did I find this uncommon genre? I learnt about these genres via @colourmeread Instagram page, where she was hosting a monthly challenge in July. I scanned through her blog post for suggested titles, and there I met Stephen King. 

11.22.63 photo from GoodReads

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t live in a cave where Stephen King was the name of the 63rd moon of Jupiter. I had heard about him, but I hadn’t come across many books by him in my college library or neighborhood library. Moreover, none of my family members or offline friends had read books by him.

But I am an adventurous reader. I like to try out as many new genres, authors and books as I can (as long as they meet my high bookish standards, that is). And this book was no exception.

11.22.63 can be described using two short phrases. “Time travel” and “assassination of President of U.S.A. John F. Kennedy“. The rest is sheer brilliance.

Jake Epping is the protagonist of this book, and he’s an English teacher at Lisbon High School, Maine. He has recently divorced his chronic alcoholic wife, Christy. (Don’t worry too much about her, she’s not the point of the story).

The story starts at the graduation ceremony of one of Jake’s students, Harry Dunning. Harry had written an assignment about the worst memory of his life: the night his father murdered his entire family, and how he (Harry) remained the sole survivor from that catastrophe. Jake, who was incredibly pained as he read this assignment, gave Harry an A+,  ignoring the blatant grammatical mistakes in the assignment. And this was the start of a really long friendship.

Jake also has another friend, Al Templeton. Al Templeton owned a diner, which none of the LHS Faculty frequented, except Jake. Reason? The Al’s Famous Fatburger was really cheap, and everyone thought Al used cat meat instead of real meat in the burgers. (Cat lovers, relax. Al never used cat meat in his burgers. You’ll understand why the burgers were so cheap once you make progress into the story.)

One day, Jake receives a call from Al who requests him to meet up at the diner as soon as possible. Sensing urgency, Jake rushes there, inspite of Al’s cagey way of not clearly saying what was wrong. When Jake arrives at the diner, Al tells him about the hidden portal in his pantry. A portal he could use to go back in time to 11.58 am, 9th September 1958. Each trip to the past could be taken for how many ever years desired. When you return back to the present (2011), it would seem like as if only 2 minutes have passed by.

Before I talk about the book in detail, let me give a brief intro about the butterfly effect. The name is derived from the phenomenon that the beating of wings by a butterfly leads to a tornado in some place on the Earth after a long period of time. While the butterfly effect can actually be proved by using some physics mumbo-jumbo, the butterfly effect has also been used in pop culture as a metaphor for ‘small insignifcant things lead to bigger important things’. As ‘rational’ human beings, we yearn to find reasons to each and every thing that happens on Earth. Using the concept of butterfly effect is one way in which we rationalise things that may not seem related at first glance.

Now that you’ve understood the concept of butterfly effect, and read the words “assassination of JFK”, I’m pretty sure you’ve understood what Al’s motive is: he wants to send Jake on a mission to save JFK. How? By killing the man who would kill JFK. Why? Because JFK staying alive and not dying on 22nd November 1963 would, according to Al, solve a lot of modern day problems.

Why can’t Al do it on his own? Because he has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and knows that he would not be able to stay healthy enough to stay in the past for five years (1958 to 1963). Infact, Al dies a few days after he reveals the portal and plan to save JFK to Jake.  (This is not a spoiler. It was pretty evident that Al would die. You’ll understand why when you read the book.)

Jake is armed with some money that Al collected from all the trips he’s made into the past, a fake identity card, loads and loads of intricately observed information about Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who was arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

But the thing is, Jake is NOT 100% interested in saving JFK. Naah-uh. He’s doing that only because it’s Al’s dying wish. What he really wants to do is, kill Harry Dunning’s father before it’s too late. (Get it? Kill Harry Dunning’s father before the father can kill his family? Jake felt that the past had done more injustice to Harry, as compared to anyone else. Which is completely valid. You tend to sympathise more with someone you know, as compared to sympathising with random people sitting all over the world.)

And so, Jake steps into the past, renaming himself as George Amberson. And the rest is all for you to read! Does Jake end up saving Harry Dunning’s family? Can George Amberson fulfill Al Templeton’s death wish? Filled with twists and turns that will make you clutch your hair in despair, this book is one you won’t be able to put down. And that’s a good thing, because it’s a really long read (849 pages). It took me more than a month to read this book!

There are many characters in this book. A few prominent ones are Harry Dunning, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sadie Dunhill (ooh, I can’t wait till you reach the part where she becomes a main character!). A few characters were necessary for only a few scenes, but yet Stephen King did them as much  justice just as he would to a full time protagonist. Backstory? Check. Emotions? Check. Motive? Check. Bill Turcotte (I won’t reveal who he is), Miz Mimi (suffice to say she’s the sassiest woman on planet 11/22/63), Ivy Templeton (one smart cookie). All of these characters don’t last beyond a few chapters, but they totally linger in your mind once you finish reading the book.  I really am at a loss to decide who my favourite character is.

Moreover, I feel that this book was more plot-oriented than character-oriented. Hence,  I’ll tell you which was my favourite part of the book.

(Spoiler Alert) My favourite part of the book was when Jake aka George meets Sadie, and falls in love with her. I mean, they both fall in love with each other. It was my favourite plot twist, (and yes, love is the biggest plot twist in the history of mankind) because it raised serious doubts about whether Jake aka George would

  1. carry out Al’s mission and return back to the future and leave Sadie forever
  2. carry out the mission and stay with Sadie
  3. complete the mission and take Sadie with him to the future
  4. completely ignore the mission and step into the world of Sadie?

All these possibilities flashed into my mind when I realised which direction the plot twist was going. And I couldn’t wait to read the end of the book, majorly because of this plot twist! (Thanks to a Kindle, you can easily resist the temptation of flipping to the last page of the book and reading what happens in the end) (Spoiler Alert end)

What I liked about this book was that the sudden twist and turns were in abundance, making the long read extremely un-boring. The plot twists didn’t make the reader feel dissatisfied about the direction the book was taking. Books with a theme of time travel need a lot of investment of time, quite literally. And I do feel that reading this book was the best bet I could take with my time.

A doubt that a reader may have: “If the portal takes Jake to 9th September 1958, and JFK was assassinated on 22nd November 1963, what does Jake do in those five years? Won’t it get boring to read about Jake’s life as George Amberson in those five years?” The thing is, that’s where Stephen King’s genius comes into picture. He makes those five years so engaging, that you won’t even realise how those five years flew by in the book (and how real time flew by in your real life)


Will 11/22/63 be your first Stephen King book? Or have you read this master’s work earlier too? Suggest some books for me to read in the comments below.




13 thoughts on “11/22/63 by Stephen King #BookReview”

  1. I have sure come to the right place for book reviews, Mithila!
    I love the way you reviewed the book..your language has an amusing, comical tone to it , esp when you describe things to make the matter easy to understand (well, I felt so!) and I loved it! I am sure I will get a lot to learn from your book reviewing techniques!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Woaa that’s an awesome review but I avoided all the spoiler sections. This sounds like an awesome read… I can’t believe I missed it. I am a huge King fan… And would definitely pick this up 😀


  3. I love your take on books and your detailed reviews. Now that you have a dedicated blog for them, guess what is my number 1 bookmark on my browser? 😀

    Apart from ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’, I haven’t read any other book by Stephen King. I have many many friends who swear by his writing, but somehow I haven’t found the right book of his until to make me want to read him. Well, not anymore.

    849 pages is a lot and this genre is something that I’ve never read before, but the plot is so damn interesting. And your review makes me want to rush to the kindle store and pick up this one right away. Okay, I’ll do it 🙂

    All the best for this new blog, lil one! Knowing you, I know you’ll be the master of the game here ❤


  4. Excellent job on the book review! (And congratulations on the new blog, Mithila!) I was looking forward to reading your view of the book and clearly, you are such a pro at dissecting a book. Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors and thanks to him, all my train and bus journeys were thoroughly enjoyable. Hugs!


  5. And now I have another one to read. You see I started off with King’s On Writing and then I went on to read Carrie – loved the first and didn’t like the other at all. This is something else completely. Sounds fabulous. Reading your review is as much fun as reading a book.


  6. So far I have only read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, and that made me want to read ALL his books, and I would have gone ahead and done exactly that, except for a small fact that I typically don’t enjoy the genres he writes in. But this sounds like something else altogether. Something that I am sure that I will enjoy, so, thank you!

    Another book added to my ever-increasing TBR pile. Headed over to Goodreads now.

    P.S. LOVE the way you have reviewed this one. I have read a couple of other reviews of this book, and none of them convinced me that I HAD to read this one. Your review did it for me.


  7. What a fabulous review of the book, Mithila. Makes me want to grab a copy now! Haven’t read his earlier works or any of this genre.
    Congratulations on the new blog. You’re totally going to rock it.


  8. 🙂 I just dropped by to see your thoughts on this book. We’ve already discussed it (and its author). I’m so glad you liked it so much. I know that I haven’t read it yet, but I feel a deep sense of loyalty towards King! There’s a similar plotline in the last book of the Dark Tower series. I won’t give anything away, but do read it. Once you’re done with that, read Insomnia (you’ll know why once you do!)

    Love the new blog ❤


  9. I’m a huge Stephen King fan and have read most of his books multiple times. The man has made writing horror an art form. I have read this particular book three times in the past year and half. I’m a big SciFi/ Time travel nut and I kept reading it again and again to get to the bare basics of the concept used here. I love the book, yes but not a fan of the JIMLA theory. Agree with most of the things you’ve mentioned. 4.5 stars.
    And I’d recommend reading IT, Cujo, Pet Semetary, The Shining and of course The Dark Tower series.


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