Welcome to the June 2012 edition of the Reader's Den! The title for this month is Stephen King's 11/22/63, part of Mystery Summer. If you were expecting The Sixes by Kate White, please see my earlier post and check out her new book So Pretty It Hurts.
Originally, I had planned to showcase a "beach read" for the June Reader's Den, which, at 849 pages (in my edition), 11/22/63 decidedly is not. King originally tried to publish this novel in 1973, but decided it was too soon. After some retooling, he decided to release it in 2012, slightly before the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.
I am by no means an expert on all things Stephen King and I have certainly not read every theory surrounding the Kennedy assassination. I wanted to cover this novel in the Reader's Den because it seemed to be a bit of a departure from most of his books. That is, I can imagine that the conversation with his editor about this novel must have been similar to when he decided to publish The Gunslinger, the first of his Dark Tower series, which must have sounded equally improbable. I imagine something along the lines of, "oh, of course we'll publish it, but, really, a time-travel book?" So, this was a somewhat unlikely pick for me and, I feel, thematically unlikely for an author that most people see as a master of the horror genre.
The other similarities to the Dark Tower series are the carefully wrought characters and vivid alternate realities, especially with the town of Derry and the "Card Man."
In the book trailer, he describes writing about time travel as something that, "better writers than I will ever be have fallen afoul of." As a result, I felt that he used a light hand when describing the logistics and mostly used it as a story device.
As this Washington Post article notes, King is not attempting to "provide an alternative history of what America would have been like had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated in Dallas," but, at least on some level, is attempting to harken back to a time when American life was simpler. There's also a love story woven into the narrative thread between Jack and the school librarian. I was struck by the sweetness in this novel, which the Washington Post article author felt was also present in his previous novels, Duma Key and Lisey's Story.
In this New York Times interview, Errol Morris has an enlightening Q & A with Stephen King in which they discuss King's research on the Kennedy assassination and what he believes really happened.