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Review: Stephen King uncovers the horror _ real and imagined _ of Kennedy's assassination
"11/22/63" (Scribner), by Stephen King: Some of Stephen King's best books do double duty as doorstops and this one is no exception. At 849 pages, it may appeal more to the Kindle crowd, but just try to read the first sentence ("I have never been what you'd call a crying man.") and not turn the page.
The title is the date President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. The plot of the book is pretty straightforward at first. What if you could go back in time and change history? If JFK survives, how do the next 48 years unfold?
"11/22/63" begins in 2011 and is narrated by Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine. He likes his small-town job, but his marriage has ended and left a hole behind. Enter Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner whose specialty ' the Fatburger ' sells for just $1.19. The rock-bottom price has always been a mystery to the citizens of Lisbon Falls, but it's soon solved by Jake. Al's been walking through a door in the back of his pantry into 1958, where he buys ground beef for pennies.
But besides basking in those profits, what he really wants to do is save President Kennedy from assassination. The door always opens on Sept. 9, 1958, and no matter how long someone spends in the past, only two minutes go by in the present. Al has done his research. He knows all about Lee Harvey Oswald and his communist friends, and most of the moves he made leading up to that fateful day. He just couldn't finish the job because the cancer eating his lungs required more care than medicine could provide four decades ago.
The book is a delightful blend of history and fantasy. The man whose imagination gave us a pet cemetery that drives people insane and a devil incarnate named Randall Flagg has always had a soft spot for an America where men wore fedoras, drove Fords with big engines and everyone could do the fox trot.
King's eye for period detail is sharp. Dig this description of the DJ at the high school dance: "He wore pink-rimmed specs with thick lenses, belt-in-the-back slacks, and saddle shoes so grotesquely square they were authentically crazy, man. His face was an exploding zit-factory below a Brylcreem-loaded Bobby Rydell" haircut.
Fans will love the echoes of other Stephen King books. Part of it is set in the very bad place of Derry, Maine, after the plot of "It." The horror is vivid and imaginable. The supernatural is limited to time travel and the villains are real ' child killers and wife beaters and one sandy-haired Marxist with a "cocky, sideways grin" who did the unthinkable.
It's a thriller until the climax, but King's genius as a writer lies in passages where he peers behind life's curtain just long enough to make readers think before they anxiously turn the page:
"For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don't we all secretly know this? It's a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? ... Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. ... A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark."