Tuesday, July 3, 2012

For Better or for Worse

11/22/63 by Stephen King is a long novel about a man named Jake Epping, who is introduced to a bubble in time through which he can pass at will.  The idea is that Jake can travel back in time, as many times as he wishes, but each time he goes through the portal, he will land on September 9, 1958.  From then, he can stay as long as he wants, and he will age one day for each day that he passes in the 1950's, but when he comes back to 2011 only two minutes will have passed. 

With his knowledge of what will happen in what he thinks of as the past, but the 1950's residents think of as the future, Jake realizes that he has the opportunity to improve the lives of some people who he knows by changing things that happened to them while they were young.   With some hints from his friend, Al, he realizes that he could even save President Kennedy, if he can stay in the past long enough. 

Stephen King's time travel bubble is a strange portal, through which things like money and clothing can pass.  Jake quickly learns that the reason Al's restaurant has such low prices is that Al is able to buy the same meat again and again, all at 1950's prices.  Each time the traveler passes through the bubble, there is a "reset" and anything that the time traveler "fixed" in an earlier trip will be undone.  Money deposited in a bank account will no longer be there.  A life saved is again vulnerable.  King explains why things can be brought back from the past, but things left in the past are lost by saying simply that the past is strange, and that's just how it works.  Coincidences abound, and King's mantra becomes "of course".  As in why would this person have the same name as that person?  Of course he would.  Why would those people dance like the other people?  Of course they would.  From a lessor author this would not have worked, but with King, the reader follows along, saying "Yes, of course, I should have expected that."

King's past is obdurate (Jake's word, not mine), and does everything that it can to keep Jake from making changes.  Additionally, Jake is aware of a butterfly effect, whereby every little action that he takes imposes changes, some small and some significant, on the future.  Ultimately, 11/22/63 poses the question of if you could change the past in order to change the future, should you?

If you, like me, have not read anything by King in the last 10 or 15 years, it just may be time to give him another chance.  Clearly he is more than just a guy who writes scary books. 

That's one more down for the Support Your Library Challenge!  11 more to go.

Next up:  Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

Still listening to:  My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.  OK.  I'm over this one.  Hopefully I will be done listening to it soon.

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