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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

11/22/63 by Stephen King

By King, Stephen 11/22/63: A Novel Hardcover - Stephen) Author(King

Roger Ebert wrote of the movie Pearl Harbor that it "is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle." The paraphrase for King's book is a natural: it's a 300-page novel squeezed into 800 pages, about how on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated the world's most powerful love affair. Or at least tries to. You'll have to see for yourself how it all turns out.

Being from Dallas, I'm tempted to give Steve a big, fat F You for equating Dallas with Derry, a town which, like Sunnydale, is situated over the very mouth of Hell. But he is from the tiny state of Maine, after all, so what the hell? I suppose a bitter sense of inferiority is only to be expected. Sometimes it's best just to give the little guys a break.


Not that Dallas wasn't a hotbed of conservatism.  But one wonders if King, who claims to have read a stack of books taller than himself about the assassination, ever bothered to view any of the films taken that day.  You know, the ones that show crowds stacked against the fences at Love Field Airport and the thousands of men, women, and children lining the motorcade route, smiling and waving and cheering him on.

In the end, it hardly matters. No city in the world nor its citizens would look good next to the blinding perfection of his characters. Consider our Hero (it must be capitalized), Jake Epping. He's a high school English teacher. For anyone else, being the sort of teacher who inspires his students to be the very best they can be would probably be enough, but it isn't enough for Jake. He also runs the drama department. And teaches an adult education course on the side. Later, we discover that he's also a damn good novelist, even if, because he's only just started, he's a little rough around the edges. Not so rough that his first novel might not just hit the ole bestseller lists, though. He lives such a perfect and charmed life that when he settles in a small Texas town and takes over the school play, he doesn't just find a "brilliant thesp" among the students, he finds him on the football team. And this kid, well, of course, he's perfect, too. Not only is he a wonderful actor, he's also the only kid on the team with the talent to go pro. Jake can see this. Add NFL recruiter to his resume. If he has a chink in his armor of perfection, it has to be that he seems to have no musical talent. But, boy, he sure can dance! Just watch him do the Lindy Hop. You gotta love a guy like this. And, of course, everyone does, some of them with a love as pure as his own. For his is a love that transcends time and space, untainted by Earthly contaminants. Oh, there's a little bit of jealousy, but that's just for show--because (ha, ha) he's got nothing to be jealous about.

Nauseous yet?

Maybe this'll do it. I've never understood this; can't figure out what the hell it's supposed to tell us, but writers do it all the time. During a harrowing scene involving his soulmate, one in which he's scared to death for her life and, by extension, their future together, he hauls her under a cold shower...and takes the time to admire her body. Imagine Ed Harris in The Abyss, while he's desperately trying to revive the woman he loves, taking a moment to scan his eyes over Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's body, and you'll have an idea just how ridiculous this sort of thing is. In any case, whatever it's supposed to tell us, what it tells me is that this cat is one sick puppy. Or just superficial as all get out.

As you carve your way through this whale of a book, you'll find lots of blubber, a fair measure of oil (because, let's face it, the man can write), but little if any spermaceti. This isn't an honest book. The characters see to that. When I find myself choking up in a book like this, I remember the Kid in a Hospital Bed. You know him. He's the poor little tyke you see in movies that aren't good enough to earn your tears so they have to resort to facile manipulation to squeeze them out of you. King is a master manipulator.  But these are cheap victories.

The plot, too, is cheap, the part of it that involves Oswald, JFK, and the assassination. It's significant that King chooses a character who, going in, knows next to nothing about any of these things. This allows him to say next to nothing about them. If I were Jake, I'd have thought, What a disappointment! To have gone back in time to one of the watershed moments in world history and to have come back with absolutely nothing original to say about it. Doesn't bother Jake, though. He never cared about it, anyway; which begs the question, Why, then, should we care? Only because the premise of the book is a con job.

When this gets adapted for the screen (assuming a two-hour adaptation), I gotta believe that the first third of the book will all but disappear. This is necessary (for it really has nothing to do with what follows, beyond laying out the ground rules), but it is also a shame. Because the first third--before we've finally concluded that we're reading about romantic stereotypes, before we've realized that King really has no interest in the assassination, and while the sense of mystery still looms over the story--is the best part of the book. Taken in context, it's self-indulgent filler. (King says that he first conceived the book in the early 70s. Had he written it then, it would have been much, much shorter, and the first third--all about his masturbatory desire to revisit Derry in the late 50s--would, of course, have been absent.) But on its own it's a decent thriller, with a time travel twist, and could have been a good book.

As the saying goes, this book has loads of style and precious little substance. I keep saying "book" because I can't really think of it as a novel. It's King donning his tour guide hat again, leading us through the landmark 1950s and early 60s, and gossiping about everyone in residence. Some of it's interesting, some of it's amusing, some of it's scary, but the connective link is missing, or at best tangential. This is evident in Jake himself, who spends 5 years in the past, only to make the same decisions that he would have made before he ever left. None of the his many experiences changes him in any meaningful way.

I can't say I liked the book, exactly, but it is certainly better than Under the Dome, so it gets an extra star.

Public Service Note: If you haven't read Saki's story "The Open Window" yet, read it before you read this. It's out there, on the net, and it's short. It's much too good a story to be spoiled, by this or any other book. A sentiment with which, I'm certain, Mr. King would agree.