First edition cover
|Genre||Science fiction novel
|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 President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, which occurred on November 22, 1963 (the novel's titular date). 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 New York Times Best Seller list for 16 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."
According to King, the idea for the novel first came to him in 1971, before the release of his first novel, Carrie (1974). 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 novel Under the Dome (2009), he abandoned the project, returning to the story later in life.
King first talked publicly about the idea in Marvel Spotlight issue The Dark Tower (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 titled "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 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 that might occur 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 an article recounting the real historical event of Kennedy's assassination, and the back featuring an alternate history article speaking of the Lee Harvey Oswald 11/22/63 assassination as just a failed 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 website 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 living in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The book begins with Jake recounting an emotional experience from his teaching career, when he assigned his evening GED class to write an essay entitled "The Day That Changed My Life". One of his students, a disabled janitor named Harry Dunning, writes about how his alcoholic father murdered his mother and three siblings with a sledgehammer (initially thought to be just a "hammer") on Halloween night in 1958, an attack that left Harry permanently brain damaged and crippled. Jake is deeply touched by the essay and gives Harry an A+ (Jake is not normally a "crying man" but cries when he reads this story). When the appreciative Harry later earns his GED, Jake invites him to dinner at a diner he frequents, owned by Al Templeton.
Two years later, in June 2011, Al asks Jake to meet him at the diner. Jake is shocked to see that Al seems to have aged years since the previous day, the last time Jake encountered him at the diner. Al explains that he is dying and that his appearance is attributable to his having time traveled and lived for years in the past. Al's method of time travel is a time portal he discovered in his diner's pantry, which he used to transport himself to 1958. Doubting Al's story at first, Jake travels through the portal, initially encountering an addled wino whom Al has dubbed the "Yellow Card Man" due to the color of a card on the man's hat. Jake spends an hour in 1958 before returning to the present, after which Al explains that he's figured out the basics of how the portal functions:
- Every journey through the portal transports the traveler to September 9, 1958, at precisely 11:58 a.m.
- No matter how long someone stays in the past—hours, days, weeks, or years—only two minutes elapse in 2011.
- Past events can be changed; however, subsequent use of the portal "resets" the timeline and nullifies all changes made on the previous excursion.
- The "obdurate" past throws up obstacles to prevent history from being changed. Such resistance is proportional to the magnitude of the change.
Al's ambition had been to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy, believing that doing so would mitigate the Vietnam War and prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. To complete this mission, Al endeavored to live in the past until 1963, but only made it to 1962 before developing terminal lung cancer due to his lifelong habit of smoking cigarettes. His dying wish is for Jake to carry out the mission on Al's behalf. Jake decides to prevent the attack on Harry's family as a precursor to taking up Al's cause. Before Jake departs, Al provides him with a fake ID to create the alias "George Amberson", as well as a supply of 1950's era cash he's accumulated.
Jake emerges from the portal to find that something is unexpectedly different: the card in the band of the Yellow Card Man's hat is orange, and the wino seems to recognize Jake this time. Jake buys a convertible and travels to Derry, Maine, where he observes Harry's father, Frank, in the weeks leading up to the attack. Unfortunately, his plan to prevent the attack is hampered by interference from the "obdurate" past in the form of a man called Bill Turcotte; while Jake's intervention (with Bill's reluctant help) stops Frank from killing the entire family, he is not able to stop him from killing one of Harry's brothers and badly injuring Harry's mother. Injured himself, Jake retreats through the portal back to 2011. Upon calling Harry's now-living sister, Ellen a radio host, Jake learns that while Harry didn't suffer the wounds he received in the original timeline, he was drafted into the military and killed in Vietnam—an unintended consequence of Jake's alteration of the past.
When Jake goes to rendezvous with Al at the diner the next morning, he discovers that Al has committed suicide by overdosing on his painkillers. Jake takes Al's detailed notes on Oswald, plus a list of past sporting event outcomes to make bets with, and returns to 1958, which nullifies the changes he had made on his previous trip to the past. Reemerging in 1958, he discovers yet another startling change: the Yellow Card Man has also committed suicide, by slashing his own throat with a shard from a broken wine bottle, and the card in his hat is now black. Jake returns to Derry, utilizing the knowledge gained during his first trip to the past to more efficiently dispose of Frank Dunning. Jake flees Derry and eventually settles in Florida, where he procures a mail-order degree from an Oklahoma diploma mill and secures a substitute teaching job. After winning a large sum of money on a reckless bet with a local bookie, Jake experiences a strong premonition that his life is in danger and flees Florida scant hours before his rental home is fire-bombed.
Jake drives to Texas to await Oswald's arrival. Rather than live in Dallas, Jake drives south and ends up in Jodie, a pleasant small town located a few hours away. Using his falsified credentials, he again finds a substitute teaching job, and after making a good impression on the school's principal and retiring librarian, Miz Mimi, he is invited to become a full-time English teacher at Denholm Consolidated High School. Fitting well into the community, Jake begins a relationship with the school's new librarian, Sadie Dunhill, who came to Jodie from Georgia to escape from her abusive and psychotic husband, John "Johnny" Clayton. Jake quickly falls in love with Sadie but is torn between his duty to prevent the Kennedy assassination and his desire to abandon the mission to spend the rest of his life with her.
The relationship is strained when Sadie becomes increasingly suspicious of his secretive behavior and use of anachronistic slang. When Sadie confronts him with these suspicions, Jake refuses to confide in her, and she angrily breaks off the relationship and departs for Reno, Nevada. After the principal discovers that "George Amberson's" mail-order diploma and references are falsified, Jake reluctantly leaves the life he has cultivated in Jodie. He rents an apartment across the street from Oswald's Fort Worth residence and monitors the would-be assassin's activities via audio bugs and a parabolic microphone. Several weeks later, Jake reconciles with Sadie after he correctly predicts the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis and reveals his identity to her.
Jake is reluctant to kill Oswald without knowing whether he is guilty, and if he acted alone in the assassination. He decides to wait until April 10, 1963 when, according to Al's notes, Oswald will make an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Major General Edwin Walker, giving Jake the confirmation he will need. However, while Jake is in Dallas awaiting the attempt on Walker's life, he learns that Sadie's ex-husband Johnny has tracked her down in Jodie and taken her hostage. Jake races to Jodie and manages to save Sadie, but arrives too late to prevent Clayton from mutilating her face with a knife. Johnny commits suicide afterwards. When Sadie is taken to the hospital, Jake offers to bring Sadie back to 2011 with him after he completes his mission, where modern plastic surgery will be able to treat her wound. After some consideration, Sadie agrees.
As Sadie's medical bills begin to strain his financial resources, Jake reluctantly places another high-stakes wager on a boxing match, earning a large sum of money. Assuming that the match has been fixed, the suspicious bookie and his henchmen track Jake to his home and severely beat him with a pipe. In the attack, Jake receives a blow to the head that renders him partially amnesiac. Jake suffers from memory loss for three months, unable to recall the details of his mission in the past. While being nursed back to health by Sadie, Jake suddenly remembers that he had hidden Al's notes in a bank safety deposit box. Rereading the notes helps him regain his memory just in time for Kennedy's visit to Dallas—but with his physical debilitation Jake doubts that he will be able to stop Oswald. When Sadie offers to help, Jake initially refuses, fearing that the "obdurate" past will jeopardize her safety. However, Jake changes his mind after Sadie convinces him that he will fail without her assistance.
On the morning of the assassination attempt, Jake and Sadie race toward Dallas, where the "obdurate" past throws numerous deadly obstacles in their way. They manage to reach the Texas School Book Depository moments before Kennedy's motorcade drives past. Jake successfully distracts Oswald from shooting the President, but Oswald instead fatally wounds Sadie. The noise from their confrontation draws the attention of the Secret Service and police, who shoot through the window and kill Oswald. Sadie dies in Jake's arms. After Jake is personally thanked by President Kennedy and the First Lady, the FBI suggests that Jake "disappear" to avoid attention. Agonized over Sadie's death, Jake decides to return to 2011 to reset the timeline and undo Sadie's untimely death.
After traveling back to Lisbon Falls, Jake finds that the Yellow Card Man has been replaced by a young, healthy-looking man whose card is green. The Green Card Man reveals that he is part of a group that monitors time anomalies and further explains that other portals exist in the universe, and that these portals are temporary "bubbles" that will eventually disappear as the physical environment in which they reside changes. He cautions that traveling back to 2011 does not "reset" the timeline, as Al believed, but instead creates alternate timelines. The more divergent timelines that are spawned and the greater the magnitude of the changes made to the original timeline, the more unstable reality becomes. The Green Card Man advises Jake to return to the future to see the damage his changes to the past have wrought.
Shortly before he leaves 1963 and returns to 2011, Jake hears a news report about a massive earthquake in California and suspects this event might be related to his changing history.
When Jake returns to June 2011, he discovers that the United States has been ravaged by nuclear apocalypse and frequent natural disasters. Stumbling through Lisbon Falls, he comes across a wheelchair-bound Harry Dunning and saves him from being attacked by a teen gang. Harry outlines the history of the world after November 22, 1963. Kennedy was re-elected, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was never passed because of the declining American support for Kennedy. King was assassinated anyway, and controversial Alabama governor George Wallace became president in 1968 and escalated Vietnam into a nuclear war that precipitated other atomic conflicts around the globe. The state of Maine seceded from the U.S. and is now a Canadian province. Massive earthquakes have sunk several Japanese islands, and scientists predict that the earthquakes will escalate in intensity until they eventually tear the world apart circa 2080.
Jake undoes these events by traveling back to September 1958. He again encounters the Green Card Man, who urges him to return to June 2011 without altering and allow the portal to close permanently. After much consternation, Jake reluctantly returns to 2011 and the time portal dissipates for good. On a whim, Jake moves to Massachusetts and begins a new teaching job.
Desperate to find out what became of Sadie, Jake searches old newspaper archives and is overjoyed to discover that even without his involvement in her life in the reset timeline, she survived Johnny's attack and went on to lead an extraordinary life of civic accomplishment. Jake also comes across a present day news article indicating that Sadie will be honored as Jodie's "Citizen of the Century" at the town's upcoming July 4 celebration.
Jake travels to Jodie for the festival and encounters Sadie, now an elderly woman. When he approaches her and introduces himself as "George Amberson", he notices that even though they have never met in this reality, the elderly Sadie experiences a glimmer of déjà vu—a testament to how strong their love had been in the alternate timeline. The novel concludes as Jake and Sadie share a final dance to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood", the couple's favorite song from the divergent timeline wherein they met and fell in love in the 1960s.
Stephen King published an alternative ending on his official website on January 24, 2012, in which Jake finds a November 2013 news article where Sadie has turned 80. She had married a man named Trevor Anderson, with whom she has five children, eleven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. This ending was changed to the published version at the suggestion of King's son, writer Joe Hill.
- Jacob "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. Jake is eventually successful in foiling the assassination, but learns that doing has set 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.
- 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.
- Frank Dunning: the father of Harry Dunning. After reading Harry's essay about Frank killing his wife (Harry's mother), two of Harry's brothers and hurting Harry badly while leaving his sister in a coma, Jake sets out to murder Frank to prevent him from causing the killing to happen.
- 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 and psychotic husband, Johnny; becomes Jake's lover and fiancé. 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, but 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 April 2012.
- 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 Nikolayevna Prusakova: 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. She is depicted as a very sexually attractive woman.
- 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 Patrick 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 Oliver 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 President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy themselves, who offer their gratitude to Jake during telephone calls following the assassination attempt. In the alternate timeline after the failed assassination, Kennedy is re-elected in 1964 and dies in 1983. 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.
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 the 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 "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 been 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, called the novel "the work of a master craftsman" but 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 – which adds a page load to the novel that Ulin finds excessive.
Awards and honors
- 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Mystery/thriller)
On August 12, 2011, before the novel's release, it was announced that Jonathan Demme had 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. On September 22, 2014, it was announced that a TV series based on the novel was picked up by Hulu. Carol Spier would be a production designer. The character Jake Epping will be portrayed by actor James Franco. Filming began on June 9, 2015 in Hespeler, Ontario. Filming during June 2015 also took place in Guelph, Ontario as well as in Ayr, Ontario at the Queen's Tavern. 
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