Saturday, January 14, 2012

11/22/63: Part One

I'm participating in a readalong of Stephen King's 11/22/63 hosted by Grace. Today we are posting about the first 350 pages; in two weeks we will wrap up the last 500 pages or so. This is my first foray into The Land of Stephen King. I've hesitated to read King because his "Uncle Stevie" columns in Entertainment Weekly tend to creep me out. His books are such a fixture in pop culture that, as a fickle and ineffective form of protest, I have boycotted him. But, thus far, I'm really enjoying it. He is a master of suspense. I haven't been so unable to put a book down at bedtime since the days when the chapters I read ended with "...and Nancy blacked out." 

Jake Epping is a 30-something divorced schoolteacher who is introduced to a time portal that funnels a traveler backwards through time to 1958 via a pantry in a diner. No matter how long one stays in the portal in the 50s--minutes, months, or years--it only equates to two missed minutes of 2011 time. And every time one is transported back in time, it's to the exact moment... the exact same second on September 9, 1958. Al, the owner of the diner, and frequent time-traveler, explains the whacked-out physics of the "rabbit-hole." Al is dying and wants to share his secret--and his mission--before it is too late. Jake accepts the challenge that Al puts before him: to live in the past long enough to prevent the assassination of JFK (By the Coward Lee Harvey Oswald... I couldn't resist.) But Jake first wants to test the idea of changing history by trying to prevent a murder that strikes a little closer to home. Soon, Jake is living a full-fledged life in the past, with only one aim: to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he pulls the trigger that ends JFK's life. But will Jake succeed? And if he does, what are the ramifications of tampering with history? Or will Jake's mission become derailed by love? (Yes, please. Let's go with that.)


How awesome would it be to not be the first person to discover a time-portal? Um, SUPER AWESOME! Someone else would have already taken the initial risk, knows the rules, and can prepare you for your own time-traveling experience. That is what Jake gets to do, and why not take advantage of that to play around a little bit in history? If I knew I'd only lose two minutes of real time, I'd go back and have a milkshake at a drugstore counter, too. What I totally don't fall for is his complete dedication to the mission that was Al's brainchild and "baby." Why is Jake so empassioned about rewriting history to save JFK?

When Jake takes the plunge into the rabbit-hole for the Big One, his last words before exiting 2011 and emerging in 1958 are something like: "I'm coming for you, Oswald. You &*$%." Now, I'm not debating the fact that Oswald was a demented %&$*, but I can't quite grasp his vehemence. Of course JFK's death was a tragedy, but I'm not sure why Al and Jake feel that his death birthed All the Evil of the Modern World. History is full of demented &*%#s and as Jake keeps asserting: the past does not want to be changed. So even if he succeeds in saving JFK, he might end up bringing about even worse tragedies than what he feels he will prevent by saving one man's life.

Even though Jake makes the passionate avowal of "going after" LHO, I think there are other reasons that motivate him to time-travel. He has nothing substantial tying him to 2011--even if he will only be absent from 2011 for two minutes--which is a sad state of affairs. I think he wants adventure. You are rarely offered an all-expenses paid vacation in life, let alone the one-of-a-kind adventure that dangles before Jake. Jake has lost control of his life. He has lost the woman he loved twice over: first to alcohol and then to the man she met at AA and he has nothing to lose. In the past, he can be a hero. He can place bets and win big. He knows what no one else can possibly know. He holds the power to change the future. These possibilities would be alluring to a guy who has been disappointed by life. 

I'm in love with the little details of living in the past. It's totally like playing a video game; high score: kill the assassin! But as he trundles along toward the ultimate goal, Jake earns points by "dickering" over a 1950s Ford Sunliner, saving a little girl from paralysis, and killing a murderer before he can murder. I really liked Jake at the beginning, but now I'm less enamored. This isn't a game, Jake, and these are real people. Sadie is real. This is YOUR real life, now, too, Jake... and what are you gonna do with it?


Jennifer | Book Den said...

I'd be so scared of the butterfly effect I don't think I could go in at all much less make as many changes as Jake is making along the way! That's probably why the yellow card man was dead on arrival.

Alice Keezer said...

You've hit on something I'm picking up on but couldn't articulate. What if he ends up making things worse? He certainly did for Harry. People who lived through that time felt it was a tragedy, their 9/11, but what if it would've been worse?

Also, if Jake stays in the past, he won't have that sense of knowing what's coming, like he does now. He'll only be able to react to the changes that he wreaks.

Jenica704 said...

I think it was easier for Jake to take on Al's 'baby' because it gave him a reason to go back in time, something to accomplish. It's easier to tackle the unknown if you have a mission to accomplish, right?

Stephen King himself summed up why it was so important to stop the JFK assassination. To those living in the early 1960s, JFK's assassination was the 9/11 of our generation. It changed everything.

RachelKiwi said...

true, i'm not saying that JFK's death wasn't a tragedy, or a huge defining moment for a generation and for a country. i'm just perplexed why, in all their conjecture about what preventing his death may mean, that they never consider that worse things may ensue by preventing it, than by what we know actually happened.

they've already seen the butterfly effect in action. why don't they consider the ramifications of playing God?

Alice Keezer said...

My guess is that they can't see something so miraculous as a portal back in time without contriving a reason for it. Something so wondrous and strange must've appeared for some purpose, and what better purpose than to save the later 20th century from itself?

Britt said...

I like that you mentioned the convenience of being the second time-traveler to go through a portal. I can't really find the words to say why I feel this way, but I think if Jake had discovered it all on his own, this book wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is. Al's character fits perfectly.

Alice Keezer said...

If he'd discovered it, the book would've had to have at least parts of the narrative devoted to his exploring, seeing how his actions affected the future, and figuring out the rules. I would imagine that it would drag, and we'd be missing some of the tension with his saving JFK. After all, if it was that important, why didn't he do it before?

Besides, going through the same time, as Al had to in order to gather the information he did, would've quickly gotten boring.