Saturday, December 17, 2011

What If?

This weekend during youth group at church, my youth played a game where everyone writes a question on a piece of paper, then we crumple them up into balls and have a "snowball" fight.  Everyone reads their question aloud and answers it.  Some of the questions are silly, but some of the questions really cause the person to think, and can start some great discussions.  Here is the question that struck me Sunday morning-"If you could kill someone with the power of your mind, and no one would know, would you do it?"

This question led to a discussion of Unitarian Universalist values, as the activity is supposed to ultimately do.  But it also led to a discussion of whether it is possible to change history.  If you add the ability to time travel to the ability to kill people with your mind, many of my youth said that maybe going back and killing Hitler as an infant would be an acceptable use of that power.  Because you already know what evil he created, and you would have a responsibility to stop it.  This exact idea is the central focus of Stephen King's latest tome, 11/22/63.


In the book, small town high school teacher named Jake Epping is floating through a rather drab existence.  Newly single, he spends his days teaching, grading papers, and eating his meals at a local diner.  One day the diner's owner and chief fry cook, A,l shares a secret with Jake-in the back of his store is an unexplained tear in the fabric of time.  Step through that tear and it takes you back to the same exact time on the same exact day in 1958.  No matter how long you stay or what you do while you are there, stepping through the tear resets any effect you may have had on the past.  Since Al discovered this mysterious tear, he's been travelling back and forth frequently.  His last trip lasted four years-because he had a mission, one that a lung cancer diagnosis is now forcing him to push on Jake.  His mission-to stop the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald, thereby stopping one of the most turbulent times in American history.  At least, that's this theory...

What follows is a loooooong history lesson about Lee Harvey Oswald.  Jake studies Oswald like a scientist, trying to discern what kind of man he was, what kind of husband he was, whether he did, in fact act alone...He follows his movements, and as a result we learn a lot about the man who shot Kennedy.

At 849 pages, this is one of King's doorstops of a book, but unlike Under the Dome, which I thought could be shortened by a hundred pages or so, I was riveted every moment of this one.  Maybe it's the historical fiction lover in me, but I actually liked the minute descriptions of Oswald's life, and King provides a personal storyline for Jake that is mildly predictable but very engaging.  Not horror by any means, this genre bending book-part historical fiction part science fiction-evokes the optimism of mid-20th Century America and the tension that builds as Jake gets closer to his goal.  And if he succeeds, will things really be better?  Consider this a novel of unintended consequences...

3 comments:

  1. Loved this book. Posted about it as well. And I'm not even a Stephen King fan. But a good book is a good book. Glad we agree. Enjoyed reading your post.

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  2. I really liked this book more than I expected to. Even though this book is massive, I still kind of felt like King rushed through the end and almost wished he spent more time here. Although that could have easily doubled the novel.

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  3. I do agree. Wish there'd been maybe fifty or so more pages. :)

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