Book Review: 11/22/63 (Stephen King, 2011)

This book is not what you think. A lot of people see the name ‘Stephen King’ and automatically write it off and decide not to read his books because they ‘don’t like horror.’ This book is not a horror book.

When you see the title, the date, you know the book is about Kennedy. Yet, you’re still going to be surprised by the concept of this book, because you might not have expected a time-travel book from Stephen King. But this book is still not what you think.

The problem with books about time-travel is that they usually aren’t realistic. Even though we like fiction, it seems like a better story if it is plausible. Time-travel books are usually fantastic, but not plausible. Everyone would love to go back in time and right some wrong or re-live a favorite experience or witness a historic event. Most of us know the moments or specific dates that we would make a beeline to, if only we had the opportunity. But time-travel, as most of us conceive of it, is very much like traveling to a vacation spot. You might stay a day or a few days, everything seems ideal and perfect, because you have no responsibilities there, and then you come back to the reality of your daily life, for better or worse. We may think of time-travel as we think of geographic travel… it is a destination in which you arrive, stay momentarily, and then return to whence you came. Stephen King makes the concept of time-travel more realistic by removing the ideal most of us have of a drop-in for a quick visit, change the bad things up, and then return to the “now new and improved” present mentality. Instead, in this story, the protagonist has to actually live–make a life–in the time he has traveled to. A return to the ‘future’ is not a sure thing. It’s no longer a vacation spot with no responsibilities. In addition to future consequences of his actions, there are immediate consequences. He’s the new kid in town.


One thing I appreciate about this book is that it is not an attempt to investigate or indulge conspiracy theories. That has already been done ad nauseum. Instead, you get a glimpse of the late 1950s / early 1960s Americana culture. You see the good and the bad from that era. For those of us that did not live through those times, it is easy to call them the “good ol’ days” and assume everything was probably better then. You may have images of Andy, Opie, and Barney on a front porch in Mayberry and everyone being right in the middle of living out their happily-ever-afters. In this book, you get to step into the shoes of a person who may blend in with everyone else in appearance, and you may think to yourself, “I could totally do that!” And yet right as you begin to think those thoughts, King shows you how your 21st century mind and your speech (including catch phrases, idioms, and modern slang) would betray you. Even if it were possible to walk through the past, it may be a lot more challenging than we realize. This aspect of the book was masterfully done.

What is it about this book that makes it stand out? It captures the essence of how important our choices are, both individually and as a society. You may take for granted that you are stuck in your current circumstances and time-travel is not an option for you. You may want change in your life but you may feel that it is beyond your control to do anything to make your circumstances improve. Oftentimes, the smallest, most subtle changes in your life can lead to dramatically different results, but it may take a long period of time for those changes to be realized. In King’s story, the protagonist was able to check the progress of things he had changed at any time, but checking back into the future had consequences. The protagonist also had to choose between living in the past or returning to the future. And one of the takeaways from this book is that we need to learn to accept that we cannot fix everything that we would like to fix. We may have influence over the choices that other people make, but we are not ultimately responsible for the choices that other people make. Finally, we need to come to terms with which changes in our lives we want to seriously pursue and which parts of our life that we need to learn to accept as they are.


This is a very long read, and there are some racy parts and some violence throughout, again making the book more realistic, but also making it not for everyone. It gets a little slow in some parts and it might have easily have been 2 or 3 books instead of one. But I enjoyed the book, and I’m glad the entire story was available under one title. 4 stars out of 5. If you enjoy books about time-travel, but you prefer to avoid R-rated material, please check out “The Five Times I Met Myself ” by James Rubart. It is the best.

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