11/22/63 is a meditation on memory, love, loss, free will and necessity. It’s a blunderbuss of a book, rife with answers to questions: Can one man make a difference? Can history be changed, or does it snap back on itself like a rubber band? Does love conquer all? … It all adds up to one of the best time-travel stories since H. G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It’s romantic about the real possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else.
Mr. King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery. He makes alternative history work — but how? It’s at least as interesting to examine Mr. King’s narrative tactics as to discover his opinions about conspiracy theories … Perhaps it’s the gravity of the Kennedy assassination that makes this new book so well grounded, but in any case 11/22/63 does not lay on the terror tricks. Mr. King’s description of America in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, fearing imminent nuclear annihilation, is at least as scary as anything he ever made up.
... a tale richly layered with the pleasures we’ve come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story … When at last Jake races through the streets of Dallas on Nov. 22, King’s storytelling skills kick into overdrive. There are echoes of a hundred chase movies, but in this case the nemesis is the past itself, hurling obstacle after obstacle in the path of a man trying to avert the killing he knows is minutes away.
The strength of 11/22/63 lies in its willingness to explore the many ways the past remains, as Jake puts it, ‘obdurate.’ It pushes back against attempts at change; the bigger the change, the harder the push … The weak point of the novel, however, is Jake's motivation for jumping into the past and trying to alter the future … With 11/22/63, the climactic race against time and fate proves as torturous and loaded with irony as one might hope. King devises an ending that satisfies the questions raised by the initial premise and, even better, delivers in the denouement a perfect emotional note of simultaneous regret and fulfillment.
Stomach-churning fun-house mirror episodes loom among many unintended consequences in 11/22/63, a piece of time-traveling historical fiction that makes the what-if game intensely personal and terrifyingly broad all at once … [11/22/63 is] the classic King tale: an ordinary man engulfed in the most extraordinary of circumstances … King ratchets up the consequences of changing the past. Jake ponders the butterfly effect and wonders constantly whether the small changes wrought by his presence are altering future events in unexpected and harmful ways.
Fortunately, the past resets each time he visits it, which means Jake can make things right simply by taking another journey in time. And yet, if this allows Jake a shot at redemption, it also undermines the tension of the book...King makes everything conditional, to the point where nothing really matters all that much … Part of the problem is the conceit of the story, which requires Jake to spend years in the past to effect the change he has in mind...This is one reason the novel is so long (too long by half, I'd suggest), but even more, it's why it doesn't hang together in a cohesive way
King rises to the challenge. He knows what he's up against, and so he's written a time-travel novel that isn't about traveling through time or changing history. It's not even about Oswald, who exists mostly at the edges, constantly disappearing around corners like a cockroach … At first, King's depiction of this disappeared world seems hopelessly treacly, but then we realize this is Jake's idea of it. Slowly, the real America comes into focus, the one in which goodness is liberally leavened with paranoia and racism.
It pains me (truly) to have to write this next sentence. King's 11/22/63 is a boring read … For five years, Jake tracks Oswald's movements, and it's this part that made me yawn. King has thoroughly researched this period of U.S. history, but it bogs down his story...the pages and pages of Oswald's domestic dramas and the chapters and chapters of the comings and goings of others involved in shaping his twisted psyche were just not that interesting.
As silly as it sounds, King makes it work that there's a portal back to that year in the back room of the teacher's favorite local deli … The combination of King's love of the '50s and his deeper search into the Kennedy assassination make this novel a terrifically entertaining work of fiction.
A novel about thwarting Lee Harvey Oswald is crucially different from one about killing Hitler because many readers will question whether the hero is going after the right man … This nagging doubt about the security of the history being altered is beautifully used by King, who also cleverly exploits a major fascination of time-travel or counter-history stories: the historical adjustments that result from meddling. While the latter parts of the novel deserve heavy protection against plot-spoiling, it can be said that the racist Governor George Wallace, Paul McCartney and Hillary Clinton are among those whose Wikipedia entries are intriguingly re-edited.
The author is really turning in a sturdy, customarily massive exercise in time travel that just happens to involve the possibility of altering history … King’s vision of one outcome of the Kennedy assassination plot reminds us of what might have been—that is, almost certainly a better present than the one in which we’re all actually living.
The past, as Jake discovers to his peril, has an uncanny, sometimes violent way of resisting change, of putting obstacles in the way of anyone who dares fiddle with it. The author of Carrie knows well how to spice the action with horrific shivers … Jake is only about 75% sure that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot JFK, so he spends much time trying to ascertain whether Oswald is part of a conspiracy.
11/22/63 was born in the questions that loom in invisible ink in the margins of every history book: What if Hitler had never come to power? What if the Titanic had enough lifeboats? … Many writers have undertaken time-travel stories, but what's marvelous and enthralling about 11/22/63 is that you really feel that Jake's in a new place — that is, in an old place, the past. There is a beautiful, unsettling strangeness about everything, from the clothes to the music to the cars — yet it is also familiar, because we know it.