Books

By Séamus Smyth

What would the world be like if JFK was never assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963? It’s a profound question that legendary author Stephen King dwells over in his latest novel, appropriately titled, “11/22/63.”

Al Templeton, a fast-food restaurant owner whose reputation is routinely scrutinized due to the rock bottom prices of his cheeseburgers, decides to finally share an unexplainable secret with one of his favourite clients, Jake Epping. Epping had never considered how Templeton was able to offer such desirable prices on his lunch, nor did he care, as it was merely a place to gather his thoughts over his lunch break. He works as an English teacher, going through a difficult divorce from a former alcoholic who accuses him of being incapable of true emotion.

As Epping is marking another stack of uninspired essays from grown adults still striving to capture a high school diploma, an essay by a janitor named Harry Dunning moves him beyond comprehension. The essay describes a Halloween night decades ago where Dunning witnessed his father murder his entire family and shatter his leg that has left him with a noticeable limp to this day. Epping immediately assigns the project an A+ despite the rampant grammar and punctuation errors and will from then on always fantasize about what it would have been like for Dunning if that Halloween night had never occurred.

Once Dunning succeeds in attaining his diploma, the two decide to dine at Templeton’s diner to rejoice. Templeton arrives at the table looking unexplainably rugged as though he had just aged a few years within a matter of days. The idea clearly wasn’t plausible, at least not until Templeton asks Jake to visit him in the back of the restaurant so he can show him something that will alter his life forever.

In the dark depths of the back of his burger joint, Templeton unveils an invisible staircase that somehow leads to a sunny day in Lisbon Falls, Maine, circa 1958. The miraculous portal to the past is how Templeton explains how he prices his burgers so low; he purchases them in 1958 for a modicum of the price he would have to pay in 2011, and then simply travels back to the present era. Templeton has made the trip dozens of times and confesses that he occasionally extends his visit past more than just a routine trip to the butcher shop.

He has been conducting intensive research over this particular period of time and realizes that there is one singular event that he feels he, or someone else with access to the portal, could improve the history of the world if they chose to intervene.

Of course this tragic event that Templeton is referring to is the assassination of JFK, supposedly at the hands of Lee Oswald.  Templeton explains that he is almost positive that Oswald is the culprit, but he needs more time to remove any doubt. Yet, Templeton’s last visit to the past had not just been for a few months, but instead had gone on for years. One of the twists of the portal is that one can spend a lifetime in the past, but upon returning, they will have always been gone for no longer than exactly two minutes.

So although Templeton only lost 120 seconds in 2011, he returns notably aged, but even worse, he is now suffering from terminal lung cancer, courtesy of his strict dedication to cigarettes.

The sudden deterioration of health forces Templeton to look for someone to finish the job that he had set out to do which is to determine if Oswald is indeed the killer and if so, eliminate him.

It’s a lofty task but because Templeton feels Epping up to the adventure, he involuntarily becomes Templeton’s last hope at altering the course of the world forever.

The story is a heart-racing, paradox-filled thriller that does an excellent duty of juxtaposing 2011 with the late 1950s and shows where the world has made noticeable improvements, but also how it has lost its way.

The time theory concept is not exactly a ground-breaking fantasy, but King manages to paint a clean slate over a restless concept that never seems to want to be laid to rest.

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