Published by Scribner on November 8, 2011
Genres: Science Fiction
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
If given the opportunity to travel back in time would you risk changing history and its potential future, or would you let sleeping dogs lie? This is the question Jake Epping is faced with. After finding a portal into the past Jake is transported into September 1958, with a mission– prevent the JFK assassination. Easier said than done. Jake spends the next five years as George Amberson as he tracks Lee Harvey Oswald’s every move with each step changing the course of history.
Jake tests the waters by saving the family of the high school’s janitor, and after his success feels he is given the go-ahead to bigger and better dealings. I was surprised that the time portal (which felt a lot like Alice’s rabbit hole) did not emerge in 1963 but the five-year gap was thrilling. The majority of the first half was taken up with the Dunning family who if Jake didn’t save would be beaten to death by Mr. Dunning with a hammer. I could not read fast enough to find the ending to this fate and let a sigh of relieve after learning their outcome. After his job is done he moves to a small town in Texas and begins to teach (his profession in 2011) and while killing time for Oswald to return from the Soviet Union he falls for the school librarian. Personally, I thought that Sadie added nothing to the story and was really just a distraction from Jake’s tailing Lee Oswald.
The main event, 11/22/63 was thrilling and to use the cliché, I was on the edge of my seat. Jake/George and Sadie racing to the Book Depository Building was like an episode of The Amazing Race, literary a race against time. When Jake and Sadie raced up the stairs to the sixth floor my heart was pounding, meeting Lee Harvey Oswald was chilling, it was a compelling read.
After all is seemingly right in the world Jake Epping returns to 2011 only to find the world as we knew it not to exist, turning Bedford Falls into Pottersville.
Unfortunately, I found the ending to be lack luster, although I think it would have been a difficult feat to “tie up loose ends” considering the subject matter but does an acceptable job. Instead of a happy ending leaves us thinking the past is obdurate.