||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2013)|
First edition cover
|Publication date||November 8, 2011|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
11/22/63 is a novel by Stephen King about a time traveler who attempts to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy which occurred on November 22, 1963 (the date of the novel's title). The novel was announced on King's official site on March 2, 2011. A short excerpt was released online on June 1, 2011, and another excerpt was published in the October 28, 2011 issue of Entertainment Weekly The novel was published on November 8, 2011, and quickly became a number-one bestseller. It stayed on the list for an additional seventeen weeks. 11/22/63 won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for the 2012 British Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the 2012 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
The novel required deep research to accurately portray the late 1950s and early 1960s. King commented on the amount of research it required, saying "I've never tried to write anything like this before. It was really strange at first, like breaking in a new pair of shoes." The novel's time-travel premise marks it as science fiction, specifically the alternative history subgenre, although the extensive period research undertaken by King, dealing with real-life events and people between 1958 and 1963, gives it a strong feeling of historical fiction.
Background information 
According to King, the idea for the novel came to him in 1971, just before the release of his first novel, Carrie. He was going to title it Split Track. However, he felt a historical novel required more research than he was willing to do at the time, and greater literary talent than he possessed. Like his 2009 novel, Under the Dome, he abandoned the project, returning to the story later in life.
King first talked publicly about the idea in Marvel Spotlight: The Dark Tower, an issue of Marvel Spotlight published on January 27, 2007, prior to the beginning of the ongoing comic book adaptation of King's Dark Tower series. In a piece in the magazine entitled "An Open Letter From Stephen King", he writes about possible original ideas for comics:
I'd like to tell a time-travel story where this guy finds a diner that connects to 1958..... you always go back to the same day. So one day he goes back and just stays. Leaves his 2007 life behind. His goal? To get up to November 22, 1963, and stop Lee Harvey Oswald. He does, and he's convinced he's just FIXED THE WORLD. But when he goes back to '07, the world's a nuclear slag-heap. Not good to fool with Father Time. So then he has to go back again and stop himself..... only he's taken on a fatal dose of radiation, so it's a race against time.
Commenting on the book as a historical fiction, King said "This might be a book where we really have a chance to get an audience who's not my ordinary audience. Instead of people who read horror stories, people who read The Help or People of the Book might like this book".
King and longtime researcher Russ Dorr prepared for the novel by reading many historical documents and newspaper archives from the period, looking at clothing and appliance ads, sports scores and television listings. The book contains detailed minutiae such as the 1958 price of a pint of root beer (10 cents) or a haircut (40 cents). King and Dorr traveled to Dallas, where they visited Oswald's apartment building (now a private residence), found the home of Gen. Edwin Walker (a target of an assassination attempt by Oswald), and had a private tour of the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository. King studied various conspiracy theories, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Oswald acted alone. King met with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, an assistant to Lyndon B. Johnson and the author of books about several presidents, and used some of her ideas of worst-case political scenarios in the absence of Kennedy's assassination.
The trade hardcover edition features a dust jacket that is a faux-newspaper front page, with the front of the jacket featuring articles recounting the real historical event of Kennedy's assassination, and the back recounting the Lee Harvey Oswald 11/22/63 assassination as just an aborted assassination attempt that Kennedy survives unscathed. The newspaper headlines were written by Stephen King. In addition to the regular trade edition, Scribner produced a signed limited edition of 1,000 copies, 850 of which were made available for sale beginning on November 8, 2011 (ISBN 978-1-4516-6385-3). This edition features a different dust jacket, exclusive chapter-heading photos, and a DVD. Due to a web site problem on November 8, most copies remained unsold and a drawing ran from November 10 to 11 to sell the remaining copies.
There was also a limited edition of 700 published in the United Kingdom. It was a slipcased hardcover with deluxe binding, photographic endpapers, and a facsimile signature, and included a DVD.
On July 24, 2012, Gallery Books published a trade paperback edition of the novel (ISBN 978-1451627299), which contains an additional "book club kit", featuring an interview with Stephen King about 11/22/63, a set of discussion questions, as well as a period playlist with King's commentary and recipes.
Jacob "Jake" Epping is a divorced high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who tells the story in first-person narrative. Jake assigns his evening GED class with an essay titled "The Day That Changed My Life". One of the students, a learning-impaired janitor named Harry Dunning, writes about how his alcoholic father murdered his mother Doris, his two elder brothers Troy and Arthur (Tugga), and younger sister Ellen while severely injuring Harry himself, on Halloween night in 1958. Jake is deeply affected by the story and gives Harry an A+; Harry earns his GED.
Two years later, Al Templeton, proprietor of a local diner which Jake frequents, mysteriously summons Jake at the end of the school year. Jake is shocked to see that, in less than twenty-four hours since he saw him last, Al has apparently become deathly ill, and seems to have aged four years. Al shows Jake a time portal located in the back of his diner's pantry, which leads to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 a.m. Jake spends an hour in 1958, then returns to 2011 to find that it is only two minutes later. Al tells him that the portal always leads to that same moment in 1958, and that it is always exactly two minutes later on return to the present. The only person near the portal in 1958 is a drunken, disheveled man whom Al has dubbed the "Yellow Card Man", because of a yellow card stuck in his hat band. The Yellow Card Man seems to be the only other person who is aware of the time portal. Al has learned that it is possible to change history; however, an apparent "reset" on any subsequent trip to 1958 nullifies the change, unless it is made again.
After discovering he could change history, Al became obsessed with preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, assuming this would lead to a better world without the Vietnam War or the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. Al extensively researched the JFK assassination, and made a plan to wait in the past for the opportunity to kill Lee Harvey Oswald during his attempted assassination of General Edwin Walker. However, the "obdurate" past seems to resist change, throwing up obstacles to prevent them from taking place; Al and Jake conclude this resistance is proportional to the historical effects of the changes. Al was forced to abort his plan in 1962 after developing terminal lung cancer due to his lifelong habit of Smoking. He pleads with Jake to carry out his mission for him.
Jake decides to use the attack on Harry's family as his test case to prove he can change history. Al gives him a fake ID to create the alias "George Amberson", and a supply of 1958 cash he has collected. Jake finds the "Yellow Card Man's" card has mysteriously turned orange this time. Jake buys a car, travels to Harry's hometown of Derry, purchases a gun, finds Harry's father Frank, and tracks his movements. His plan to kill Frank before the attack is hampered by the revenge-bent brother of Dunning's first wife, whom Dunning had also killed, stalking Jake. This man's interference prevents Jake from stopping Dunning's attack, but everyone is saved except Tugga. After returning to 2011, Jake contacts Ellen Dunning and learns that Harry was killed in Vietnam.
As Jake goes to meet with Al, he discovers Al has committed suicide by overdosing on his pain killers. Jake must now act quickly before Al's death is discovered, which will result in the demolition of the diner (and presumably the time portal.) Jake takes Al's notebook, which contains all of Al's research on Oswald, plus the outcomes of long-shot sporting events on which he can bet to keep himself financed, and enters the portal again. This time the "Yellow Card Man" has killed himself, and the card has turned black.
Jake buys the same car and gun, and this time assassinates Dunning well before the attack on his family. He drives to Florida, where he gets a mail-order Bachelor's degree in English from an Oklahoma diploma mill, and spends the remainder of the school year substitute teaching. He then drives to Texas to wait for Oswald's return to the United States following his Marine Corps service and attempted defection to Russia. He settles in Jodie, a small town located near Dallas, where he is hired for a one-year probationary period as a full-time English teacher for Denholm Consolidated High School. He becomes popular with the students and faculty, and becomes romantically involved with the school's new librarian, Sadie Dunhill, who has run away from her mentally disturbed, abusive husband John Clayton.
Things start to sour for Jake when Sadie becomes suspicious of his use of anachronistic slang, and singing songs that have not been written yet. When he refuses to confide in her who he actually is, she angrily breaks off the relationship before traveling to Reno, Nevada over the summer vacation to divorce Clayton. The school principal has also discovered "George Amberson's" mail-order diploma, and the holes in his background. By this time, Jake has decided not to renew his teaching contract and leave Jodie, so he can concentrate full-time on monitoring Oswald and keep Sadie out of danger. He rents an apartment across the street from Oswald's future Fort Worth residence, and monitors his activities with audio bugs and a parabolic microphone.
Through the bugs, Jake witnesses Lee abuse his wife Marina and argue with his overbearing mother, Marguerite. Around this time, Jake reconnects with Sadie and reveals that he is from the future, proving his claims by correctly predicting the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis; he eventually reveals his full plan of preventing Kennedy's assassination. Sadie is reluctant to believe Jake at first, but her love for him leads her to support his efforts. Meanwhile, Jake becomes hesitant to kill Oswald when he sees his friend, George de Mohrenschildt, seemingly egg on the would-be assassin to kill Walker and Kennedy. Jake is unable to interfere in the Walker attempt when Sadie is disfigured by her psychotic ex-husband. Jake resolves, once he has completed his mission to save Kennedy, to take Sadie back to 2011, when her disfigurement can be corrected.
Jake himself is severely beaten by a bookie who lost money due to Jake's knowledge of future sporting outcomes. He spends three months recovering from the beating and resultant Memory loss. He regains his memory just in time for Kennedy's visit to Dallas on November 22, 1963. Jake and Sadie race for Dallas and are able to reach Oswald's sniper's nest at the Texas School Book Depository seconds before the fateful moment when Kennedy's motorcade drives past. Nevertheless, Jake successfully prevents Oswald from shooting Kennedy. In a rage, Oswald fires at Jake, but the shot misses him and hits Sadie. The noise of their confrontation draws the attention of the Secret Service and police, who fire through the window from the outside and kill Oswald. Sadie dies in Jake's arms as the authorities gain access to the Depository.
Jake becomes a national hero, being personally thanked by President Kennedy and his wife. The FBI suggests that Jake disappear for a time until the situation dies down. Agonized over Sadie's death, Jake resolves to return to 2011 and back to 1958 in order to repeat his journey in order to save both Kennedy and Sadie. As he leaves Dallas, he learns that there has been a massive earthquake in California in which thousands have died. He suspects that it is related to his changing history.
Returning to the portal, he finds that the Yellow Card Man has been replaced by a younger man whose card is green rather than yellow. He reveals himself to be a "guardian" who explains that many other portals exist in the universe. The portals, he explains, are temporary "bubbles" in time, which will eventually disappear as the physical environment in which they reside changes. The "Green Card Man" also explains that traveling through the portal does not erase the past, it merely creates another time thread. The larger the changes and the more threads created, the more unstable reality becomes. The green/yellow/black card is shown to be similar to a film badge dosimeter, measuring the guardian's mental degradation caused by his consciousness of the multiple time threads, explaining the demise of the Yellow Card Man. The Green Card Man can do no more than beg Jake to set things right again.
When Jake returns to 2011 again, he discovers a lawless dystopia. He comes across a wheelchair-bound Harry Dunning, who explains the troubled history of the world since 1963. Kennedy got re-elected in 1964. Since LBJ's presidency did not occur, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is never passed. George Wallace becomes president in 1968, leading to nuclear war. The historical disruption is exacerbated by an increase in earthquakes, which are expected to destroy the planet. When Jake returns to 1958, the Green Card Man advises him to go back to 2011 and see that the portal is closed. Jake struggles with his desire to return to Texas to bring Sadie back with him, but ultimately decides he cannot risk changing anything. He returns to a restored 2011. Al's diner is demolished. Learning that Sadie survived the confrontation with her ex-husband without his interference, he travels to Jodie and meets Sadie as an old woman. He learns she has lived a life marked by civic and charitable contributions, and he gets to dance with her one last time.
Original ending 
Stephen King published an alternative ending on his official website on January 24, 2012, in which Sadie marries another man, subsequently having five children and eleven grandchildren. This ending was changed to the ending the novel was published with at the suggestion of Joe Hill, King's son, a writer himself.
- Jake Epping: an English teacher at Lisbon Falls High School in Maine. Jake uses the alias of "George Amberson" to travel back to 1958, make his way to Texas, and track Lee Harvey Oswald's movements in the months leading up to the Kennedy assassination. Part of Jake's time is spent in Jodie, a small town on the outskirts of Dallas; there, he becomes an English teacher for a consolidated school and becomes well-liked by the students and faculty for his stage productions. Epping is eventually successful in foiling the assassination, but learns that his doing so sets his twenty-first century world on a catastrophic path.
- Al Templeton: the middle-aged proprietor of Al's Diner and long-time acquaintance of Jake. He shares the secret of his time portal, and his plan to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, with Jake. His plan to do this himself has been thwarted by his cigarette smoking leading to terminal lung cancer. He motivates Jake to carry out his plan by committing suicide by overdosing on his pain medication.
- Frank Dunning: the father of Harry Dunning. After reading Harry's essay about him killing his wife (Harry's mother), two of Harry's brother and hurting him bad while leaving his sister in coma, Jake sets on to murder him to prevent him from causing the killing to happen.
- Harry Dunning: a janitor at Lisbon Falls High School, and student in Jake's evening GED class. His submission of a paper about the night his father murdered his mother and siblings with a hammer, provides Jake with motivation and a test case to see if history can be changed. In Jake's second time thread, most of his family members are saved, but Harry serves in the Vietnam War, and is killed in the Tet Offensive. In Jake's third time thread, Harry survives Vietnam, but is wheelchair-bound and living alone in a ruined Lisbon Falls.
- Deacon Simmons ("Deke"): the principal of Denholm Consolidated High School in Jodie, Texas, who hires "George Amberson" to teach English for a probationary year. Marries Mimi Corcoran and retires. Becomes Jake's good friend, and one of only two 1960s people in whom Jake confides his mission to save JFK.
- Mimi Corcoran Simmons ("Miz Mimi"): the DCHS librarian who is Deke's girlfriend and briefly becomes his second wife, until her death from cancer. Miz Mimi takes a liking to "George" and becomes one of his good friends in 1960s Jodie.
- Sadie Dunhill: from Savannah, Georgia, replaces Miz Mimi as DCHS librarian. She has run away from her abusive obsessive-compulsive husband, Johnny; becomes Jake's lover and fiance. She travels to Reno to get a divorce from Johnny, but he tracks her down to Jodie and holds her hostage to lure Jake. Jake frees Sadie, who is severely disfigured during the ordeal; Johnny commits suicide. Jake and Sadie reconcile, and Sadie ends up helping Jake prevent Oswald from shooting Kennedy. She is killed in the confrontation at the Texas Book Depository. However, she comes back to life once Jake "resets" the timeline by going through the portal. She survives Johnny's rampage without Jake's help and is still alive in 2011.
- Ellen Dockerty ("Miz Ellie"): an experienced DCHS teacher who replaces Deke Simmons as principal. Becomes a good friend of Sadie and "George" and admires the latter as a teacher, but is troubled when she discovers his teaching references are fake. She becomes angry at his refusal to tell Sadie what he is up to, but remains Jake's ally when he and Sadie are injured.
- Lee Harvey Oswald: a former expatriate to the Soviet Union, living in a series of squalid residences in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with his wife and child. Oswald, who is vocal about his support for Communist causes, is depicted as an ill-tempered loner who acts out of a self-absorbed desire for fame. In the alternate timeline, Oswald's attempt to kill Kennedy is thwarted by Jake and Sadie, and he is killed by outside fire in his sniper's nest at the Texas School Book Depository.
- Marina Oswald: a Soviet immigrant and Oswald's wife. Marina is depicted as being a victim of her husband's physical and verbal abuse, as well the abuse of Oswald's domineering mother, Marguerite. Jake and other characters comment on her sex appeal.
- George de Mohrenschildt: a Soviet expatriate who becomes a friend of Oswald's, inciting the would-be assassin with hyperbolic political rhetoric. Jake eventually realizes, however, that de Mohrenschildt is an apolitical eccentric who merely finds Oswald "amusing". Jake poses as a government agent and threatens de Mohrenschildt into ending his association with Oswald.
- James P. Hosty: an FBI agent who interrogates Jake following the assassination attempt. Hosty eventually allows Jake to leave Dallas, mostly out of a desire to avoid responsibility for his previous failure to properly investigate Oswald.
- Dr. Malcolm Perry: a doctor who treats Jake after his beating. In real life, Dr. Perry treated President Kennedy as well as Oswald.
- Other historical characters depicted in the book include John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" Bouvier themselves, who offer their gratitude to Jake during telephone calls following the assassination attempt. In the alternate timeline after the failed assassination, Jack gets re-elected in 1964 and dies in 1983. Billy James Hargis, a pro-segregation evangelist, conducts a television interview with Walker that Jake watches. Lyndon B. Johnson does not become president but is kept by Kennedy as his running mate in the 1964 election against Barry Goldwater due to his hold on Texas. George Wallace, Curtis LeMay, and Hubert Humphrey occupy the Oval Office after Kennedy finishes his second term; Ronald Reagan defeats Humphrey in the 1976 election. Hillary Rodham Clinton is president when Jake discovers the dystopia of 2011; she ran in place of Bill Clinton, the Democrats' prospective nominee in 2004 who died during the Democratic National Convention.
Critical reception 
The reviews for 11/22/63 have been generally positive, with The New York Times selecting the novel as one of its top five fiction books of the year, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal calling 11/22/63 King's "best novel in more than a decade". The review aggregate site Metacritic judged 30 out of 36 reviews as positive, with four mixed and two negative. NPR book critic Alan Cheuse found no fault with the structure, commenting "I wouldn't have [King] change a single page." USA Today gave the novel four out of four stars noting the novel retains the suspenseful tension of King's earlier works but is not of the same genre. "[The novel] is not typical Stephen King." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also commented on genre change and pacing but felt the writer has built the narrative tightly enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. "The pages of “11/22/63” fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick." The review in the Houston Chronicle called the novel "one of King’s best books in a long time" but also "overlong" noting "As is usually the case with King’s longer books, there’s a lot of self-indulgent fat in 11/22/63 that could have trimmed." The review in the Bangor Daily News commented that the novel "[is] another winner", but provided no critical review of the plot construction. Lev Grossman, in reviewing the novel for Time magazine, called the novel "the work of a master craftsman" but also commented that "the wires go slack from time to time" and the book wanders from genre to genre, particularly in the middle. More pointedly, Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin called the novel "a misguided effort in story and writing". Ulin's primary criticism is the conceit of the story, which requires the reader to follow two plotlines simultaneously: historical fiction built upon the Kennedy assassination as well as the tale of a time traveling English teacher, adds a page load to the novel that Ulin finds excessive.
Awards and honors
- 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Mystery/thriller)
References to Kennedy assassination in other King works 
In The Langoliers, one of the characters, while speculating on the nature of time travel, wonders if it is really possible to interfere in events that have already happened. There he briefly mentions the JFK assassination, asking whether Kennedy could have been saved.
They also make a mention of Kennedy in several of the books from The Dark Tower series, where one of the characters states that Kennedy was "the last great gunslinger".
References to other King works 
King uses his fictional town of Derry, Maine as the setting where Harry Dunning grew up, which he also used for his novel It. When Jake goes there, he learns of a recent spate of child murders by a killer clown. Jake meets Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, two of the protagonists from It, who seem to recognize that he is somehow different from most people. Jake senses in Derry an evil, murderous presence, which he believes is shared by Dunning's father. He decides to spend part of his time writing a novel about the child-killing clown, to help provide cover and disguise his purpose as a time-traveler. Jake also meets pharmacist Norbert Keene, also from It.
While Jake plots the murder of Frank Dunning, he considers the possibility of being arrested and thrown into fictional Shawshank State Prison, a reference to King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.
Sadie mentions dancing with Don Hagarty at the school dance. Don appeared in It as one half of a homosexual couple who encounter Pennywise.
Film adaptation 
On August 12, 2011, well before the novel's release, it was announced that Jonathan Demme has attached himself to write, produce, and direct a film adaptation of 11/22/63 with King serving as executive producer. However, on December 6, 2012, Demme announced that he withdrew from the project, after disputes with King over what to include in the script. On April 26, 2013, it was reported that Warner Bros. Television and J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions were in negotiations for the rights to adapt the novel as a TV series or miniseries.
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- The term here is used to denote murder by stealth or treachery.
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- "Stephen King’s ‘11/22/63’ his best in a decade". Lvrj.com. 2011-12-23. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
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- Galehouse, Maggie (2011-11-06). "Review: Stephen King’s new history lessons in 11/22/63". Blog.chron.com. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
- McGarrigle, Dale (2011-11-06). "Stephen King’s latest tale takes on time travel in heart-rending, life-affirming way". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
- Grossman, Lev (2011-11-02). "Book Review: Lev Grossman on Stephen King's 11/22/63". Time. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
- Ulin, David L. (2011-11-20). "Book review: '11/22/63' by Stephen King". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-11-21.
- Valby, Karen (2011-08-12). "Jonathan Demme to adapt Stephen King's time-travel saga". Insidemovies.ew.com. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
- "J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot To Option Stephen King Novel ’11/22/63′ For TV Series". Deadline.com. 2013-04-26. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
- A Stephen King Thriller: What Motivated Oswald?: Stephen King's letter to the editor regarding the politics and motivations of Lee Harvey Oswald, published on December 1, 2011 in The New York Times
- 11/22/63: Enhanced eBook video: written and narrated by Stephen King