This is the first Stephen King book I've read, and though there are only traces of the horror genre herein, I can see why his writing is so widely admired. King has a way of effortlessly transporting readers into a different era- in this case, the early 1960s- and describes the surrounding world in a thoroughly realistic manner. Somehow, despite the novel's considerable size, the pages fly by, and small events (most of the novel takes place prior to- and much after- the titular occasion) take on significant import. Though the book always revolves around the Kennedy assassination, there is much more to the story than that, as readers (like the protagonist) learn to live comfortably in the 1960s. This balance between the ultimate objective (reaching
by the time of the assassination) and the work that it takes to get there
(day-to-day occurrences) allows the novel to settle and to become meaningful
beyond its time-travel premise. Despite the comfort that readers and the
protagonist ultimately find in the past, however, the novel has a consistent
dark undertone that helps it retain a sense of mystery and, to a certain
extent, impending doom.
This darkness hovers over the novel, occasionally dipping into obscurity, and informs many of the most pivotal events. Though the book largely focuses on daily life, King manages the time travel conceit wonderfully, from his vision of the fundamental mechanism to its implications. Nothing comes too easily in this novel, and though there is one aspect of the time travel that feels a bit contrived, King's ideas about cause and effect are integrated seamlessly into the text. He plays with the concept of established timelines and manages to make his vision of time travel and the universe's sense of self-preservation fresh, a neat trick in a crowded subgenre. Even though many of the events are foretold and the general shape of the plot is fairly straightforward, the book retains a kind of suspense. King is also to be commended for his take on the historical assassination itself; the temptation to draw up a convoluted alternate theory must have been great, but the chain of events he proposes keeps the novel firmly planted in reality, and that much more believable and effective for it. 11/22/63 is a book that draws you in slowly, but it never relinquishes its hold on the reader once it picks up steam. It's a book that's easy to get lost in and thoroughly enjoyable to read.