Stephen King’s writing has always been above the level of popular literature — whatever he used to write about. His horror books were not interesting because of the frightening horror scenes and plots — they were interesting because of the author mastery of storytelling. I could imagine King writing anything, even stupidest tales, yet I’m sure, it would be worth reading.
Travels in time, alternate histories — such themes were no seldom in novels. So, in some sense, the main theme of 11/22/63 is not very original. Yet King converts the seemingly banal sci-fi theme into a vehicle that he uses to portrait America of nineteen sixties with incredible meticulousness and color (we could even say — with a smell). He also uses it to tell us about his philosophy of time, of past, present and future…
In a synopsis to the novel I could only tell (not to spoil the pleasure of reading it) about its main hero, high school teacher of English from Maine who, with the help of seriously ill local diner owner, finds in this diner a time slip that enables him to travel in time to nineteen sixties. He finds many reasons to go there and “to correct” the flow of events that would later lead to some tragic facts. However, the diner owner’s mission, which he could not accomplish, was to revert the history of America by saving J.F. Kennedy, killed on November 22nd, 1963…
Let’s leave it for now whether the mission was successful or not. The paradox is that with King’s imagination comes deep thinking about history and its essence.
“The past is obdurate and it does not want to be changed”.
Would we have better world if Kennedy was not killed in Dallas?
Traditional views and our hero say — yes, but are such views justified? King takes us on a journey, where we start with strong conviction of the veracity of such conviction, but where we later end with deep doubts. Yet King's conjectures are not politically motivated, instead he sheds light on the nature of causality itself, on the incredibly connected world where „butterfly effect” of individual human freedom of choice is profound. Its effect is so strong that for many, the world existing in time appears like the pre-ordained rigid and obdurate structure, but when one dares to trust his own sense of freedom — he finds that he could indeed change the course of events. Would it be for good or for bad — that’s another question which usualy remains unanswered… (The novel seems to claim - for bad)
King's mastery allows the mere mortals to ponder on these deep philosophical conundrums without any kind of abstract and unrealistic “philosophizing”.
How often we, in our lives try to rewrite our past? It is hard to find a person who passed his life without thinking (or sometimes even doing) „it would have been better if I did so and so”… Many tried, usually to no avail. In almost all known cases, we come to that simple fact of the persistent obduracy of the past…
It is not a first time when the great literature of our age contemplates time. Kurt Vonnegut in his Slaughterhouse No. 5 makes his hero “unstuck in time”. For Vonnegut events in time are fixed and frozen:
A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.' So it goes. "If You know this," said Billy, 'isn't there some way you can prevent it?
Can't you keep the pilot from pressing the button?' 'He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.
For King, the time is open ended and our will can create parallel universes. They harmonize and we perceive all them as one single and consistent universe:
The multiple choices and possibilities of daily life are the music we dance to. They are like strings on a guitar, Strum them and you create a pleasing sound. A harmonic. But then start adding strings. Ten strings, a hundred strings, a thousand, a million. Because they multiply! (…) Sing high C in a voice that’s laud enough and true enough and you can scatter fine crystal. Play the right harmonic notes through your stereo loud enough and you can shatter window glass. It follows (to me, at least) that if you put enough strings on time’s instrument, you can shatter reality.
Here we come to the essence of the novel. The travel in time and Kennedy case are used to teach us the fundamental lesson about the higher harmony that exists in time and in events of history.
It is so easy to shatter the delicate harmony of the world. We must walk and live carefully.
“Every breath we take is a wave”…
The novel ends beautifully. You can read these words, they will not impair your future reading:
„She speaks in a voice almost too low to be heard over the music, but I hear her — I always did. „Who are you George?” „Someone you knew in another life, honey.” Then the music takes us, the music rolls away the years, and we dance.
It was one of the best novels I ever read...