When I was a junior in high school, on a sleepover with my friends Ed Wells and Jim Fabry, I told a ghost story whose authorship (in a period of adolescent insecurity?) I proudly claimed for myself. I don’t know what I called it, but Stephen King called it “The Bogeyman”.
Imagine my horror when Ed told me later in school that, surprise, surprise, he had read the same story that I had supposedly written in a King short story book called Night Shift. I was, as they say, caught red handed. But Ed is still my friend to this day; in fact, he was my best man and I was his, so I’m quite certain he has forgiven my lapse in integrity. Right, Ed?
My point, I suppose, in this confessional introduction is that Stephen King has been a great writer worthy of imitation (if not downright thievery) for a long time now, and continues that prowess in his latest novel, an enjoyable read called 11/22/63.
What were you doing on that day? I was a gleam in my mother’s eye, but those over 5 years old in 1963 will probably know the answer to the question and recognize the date of JFK’s assassination. 11/22/63 is therefore King’s time travel exploration of that fateful day.
In 11/22/63 our hero, writing in first person, is Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher in 2011 who gets introduced to a “rabbit hole” to the past in the pantry of his favorite eatery, Al’s Diner. One night Jake is in for one of Al’s famous Fatburgers (nicknamed by the locals, Catburger, because of their suspiciously low price), and the next day at school, he actually gets a call from Al. This is a surprise because, while friendly at the restaurant, the two are not exactly phone call buddies.
More strange, when Jake goes to see Al, it seems that in the span of only one day, the latter has apparently aged 4 years, and is now dying of cancer. To explain, Al urges Jake to go into his diner pantry, where stepping gingerly forward, he emerges on September 9th, 1958. Jake spends an hour or two in the past, taking in the sights and smells and sounds of a bygone era, not to mention a cold mug of root beer, and then returns to 2011 exactly two minutes later (it’s always just two minutes that have elapsed in the present). He learns that Al has been making this trip for years now, always emerging on September 9th, 1958, the same day and time. How this “rabbit hole” came to be in his diner pantry, Al has no answers, but he has been using his link to the by-gone era to buy cheap ground beef, and recently got the idea to do something much more constructive: stop Lee Harvey Oswald.
However, cancer comes into the picture, and deathly ill, Al is forced to return after a 4 year experience in “the land of ago”. So, would Jake be willing to resume the mission? Imagine what great things could happen if JFK were saved, Al reasons, and Jake can find no counter argument. Armed with the outcomes and details of a few baseball games and boxing matches to fund his trip, Jake goes through the rabbit hole again, this time, more or less, to stay…that is, until the deed is accomplished.
11/22/63 has sat on top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and for good reason. Part love story, part science fiction, part exploration of the JFK conspiracy theories, I found it delightful and hard to put down.
And yet…this review begs a question – couldn’t I have spent my time listening to something more constructive? (11/22/63 was an audible purchase). Did I make a bad choice? What do you think?
Our staff at Edgewood has recently started reading and discussing Lit, A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke. It’s terrific, evidenced by the fact that Youth Pastor extraordinaire Jamie Thompson devoured it in about a day. Reinke devotes a chapter to worldview and a chapter to the benefits of reading non-Christian authors, and offers this quote from one of our more famous Christian Poets…
“So long as we are conscious of the gulf fixed between ourselves and the greater part of contemporary literature, we are more or less protected from being harmed by it, and are in a position to extract from it what good it has to offer us.”
– T.S. Eliot
This is not to say that we read anything, or watch anything, or listen to any kind of music, but that as long as we are well-equipped with a Christian worldview, we are likely well protected from “fool’s gold.” Reinke is, for instance, not allowing his 9 year-old son, a voracious reader, to pick up Harry Potter yet, although he would read the books to his boy; and I take it that the day will come when he will deem his son old enough and wise enough to matriculate at Hogwarts.
Albert Camus said, “A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images”, and King has a philosophy or worldview in 11/22/63 which has nothing to do with the make-believe world of time travel. It’s “moralistic therapeutic deism”, a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith. I’d like to talk about that too, but I’m not convinced you’d like to read, so I’ll put that off for another time.