There was a time when I'd buy every Stephen King novel as it was released. This slowed down some time around The Tommyknockers, and I've only occasionally read his works since. The age of
Christine, The Shining and Pet Sematary are over, but King can still (and always could) write up a storm.
For several reasons, including lifestyle, failing eyes, and the invention of the iPod, I listen to
many more books than I read anymore. This opens a world to me, but also closes one. When reading the printed word, I hear the main character in my own voice (or that of my superego). The interpretation of all characters is in my head, and they often all sound like me a bit. In an audiobook, this is handled by the narrator, in this case Craig Wasson.
11/22/63 tells the story of Jake Epping, a divorced high school teacher who has an opportunity to step back in time to 1958 and possibly stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His pal Al Templeton, who runs the local greasy spoon, has found a portal in his storage closet that will take you to September 9th, 1958. Al reveals this
all to Jake one day just at the end of the school year. Al seems a lot older than he should when Jake sees him (the day after their last encounter). It turns out Al tried to stop Lee Oswald himself but was struck with the Big C and unable to finish the job.
He came back, arriving just two minutes after he left, so he can convince Jake that he needs to take over Al's project. Al believes that America and the world would be much improved had JFK not lost his head on that day in Dallas.
Al suggests that Jake give it a dry run and try to change an event as proof of concept. Jake chooses to change the fate of a brain-damaged janitor to see how things go. Jake sees some improvement after one time out, but thinks he can do better on the next trip.
Naturally he decides to stop the killing of JFK or I wouldn't be writing this. Jake discovers in his journeys how obdurate the past can be. He furthermore discovers that the past's resistance is directly proportional to the importance of the change. What's more important than the death of JFK? Maybe Bobby wouldn't have been killed, maybe Martin Luther King would have lived, maybe Vietnam would have ended sooner.
We could, to this day, be living in Father Knows Best's America.
Jake Epping fixes a couple of things back East and eventually moves to Texas, settling for a time in Jodie--a town not too far from Dallas, but far enough away from
its oppressive nature. There he gains some steady income by teaching in a high school where he meets the love of his life, Sadie. This complicates things for Jake, who is going under the pseudonym George Amberson. Being so close to Sadie, how can he keep his secret? Things are going to slip, like sayings from the future, lyrics from songs not yet sung, outcomes of upcoming missile crises. If it were me in Jake's boots, I'd have abandoned the mission and just lived out my life in Jodie with Sadie, raised a few pups and invested in Microsoft at the right time, switching my stock to Apple 'round about 2003.
King does not disappoint in the level of research of the era, the flavor of the characters, and of course the cross references to other of his works. Jake stops for a time in Derry, Maine, where long-time readers will recall a series of child murders by a sinister clown.
<shudder> My only issue is the long-winded nature of King's writing. Don't get me wrong, every bit of it is rich and beautiful, but there are some areas that should maybe be more briefly visited. He's not getting paid by the word, for chrissake!
Craig Wasson does an admirable job of reading, though I occasionally pictured Sadie as a drag queen. I'm always amazed by the performances of the artists who read these books to me. They're actors, playing tons of roles and making it believable. Awesome job, Craig. Wonderful work, Steve!