When it comes to books that are straight-forward plot, nobody does it better than Stephen King. He’ll never set your soul on fire with an electrifying turn of phrase, nor are you liable to lay awake at night, rolling a moral or metaphysical quandary from one of his works around in your head in order to discern some higher truth. At the very least, he always entertains.
Which I guess is the biggest problem with 11/22/63. I’ve always been a huge fan of time travel as a storytelling device. It’s an instrument of sci-fi pornography, one that allows a diligent writer to weave a metaphysical net in which to snare his reader. The possibilities are endless with a straight-faced time travel story. I presumed, wrongly as it turns out, that in his old age King would ascend his usual plot-driven mediocrity to the heights afford him by this sub-genre.
Instead, what he did was drag time travel down so that he could use it for his own devices. Instead of an intricate tale that leaves the reader wondering about things like chance and the presence of a higher power, 11/22/63 is essentially several smaller King novels smashed together, with the time travel used a convenient device to get his narrator comfortably back in the late 1950s.
By the time you’ve limped to the end of this absurd, over-wrought tale, you’ve read a horror-tinged murder mystery, a light travel story, an old-fashioned domestic romance, and a detective novel, tied together with a time travel shtick that would fit quite concisely into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Some of the light research he did about the Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald was interesting, since it’s been a while since I saw that Oliver Stone flick, but it stands amidst a desert of too-convenient plot turns explained away as the resonance of time travel.
I suppose, in the end, my disappointment with this book stems principally from my own benighted expectations. If you can read Stephen King and happily consider it high art, you can mark this one five stars before you started. Just don’t be fooled as I was, thinking that King had finally raised his game.