Time travel has been a frequent feature of speculative fiction but here it is joined with speculation about the possible consequences of changing one of the most written about events of the 20th century, the death of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. This is typical Stephen King, good storytelling, good build-up of suspense and a few surprises along the way. What was somewhat predictable is that we can conclude that it may not be desirable to try to change the course of history and that there may be many unintended consequences to one small change. I found that the author made the case in a very heavy-handed way, presenting the possible future after the shooting of Kennedy was averted as much too bleak, and nearly unlivable.
King describes the course of history as something that is somewhat predetermined. Whenever his main character Jake Epping (aka George Amberson when he goes back in time) tries to change something significant, there seems to be some “reaction” from history resisting the change. This reaction can even be preventative, as if something or someone can read into his intentions and is preventing him from carrying out his plan. This reaction is repeatedly described in the book by the expression “the past is obdurate”. On the Merriam-Webster website, this is given to mean “refusing to do what other people want: not willing to change your opinion or the way you do something”, with a “hardened feelings” aspect to it. Possible synonyms include: heartless, callous, cold-blooded, and unsparing. Associated words include “malevolent”. So Jake gets into all sorts of situations that he assumes are created by history trying to preserve its course, including getting severely beaten by a bookie with multiple factures and a concussion which produces significant memory loss weeks before Oswald planned assassination attempt which nobody knows about. If he has forgotten what he intended to do, then he will not change history right? But Jake/George is resourceful and does get there in time to disturb Oswald who misses his shot and gets in turn shot by the authorities. As I don’t believe in a predetermined future (or any similar notion of destiny) that was the most questionable aspect of the book for me. Granted, one has to suspend expectations of realism when reading speculative fiction, but I still like my speculation to be at least somewhat believable.
One thing to chuckle is that when Jake returns to the present time (2011 in the story), Maine is no longer an American state and as become a Canadian province. I wonder if there was ever a movement promoting such a thing. There isn’t much information about that on the Web.
So there we go, got my Stephen King fix for a while. I had not read any since Insomnia and Misery. I don’t thing I would want to get into Doctor Sleep without reading The Shining, so that might take some time given the immense pile (physical and virtual) of unread books already available at home.
Right about now, a little detour through H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine would be nice (I do have that saved to my Kobo). Let’s see if I get to it. I am trying to finish Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go today along with cooking up a storm.
- Imagine if John F Kennedy had lived… Stephen King introduces a special extract from his new novel ‘11.22.63’ (independent.co.uk)
- 11/22/63 on 11/22/13 (biffbampop.com)
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King (rebeccasreviews.com)