My mother has always been a huge fan of Stephen King. I … have not. My experience with his work goes just about as far as the movies that have been created from his works. Some of which have been excellent (The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption jumping immediately to mind), and some of which, not so much (Maximum Overdrive and Maximum Overdrive springing immediately to mind [and yes, it deserves being mentioned twice here]). A quick look on rottentomatoes shows that it’s not just my judgement of the aforementioned titles either; The Shawshank Redemption comes in at 90% fresh, The Green Mile is sitting at 80%, and Maximum Overdrive is a lowly 17% (and I can’t help but wonder how many of those 17% are being quite generous in an award the over-the-top-cheese-fest kind of way).
Being that my mother has been reading King longer than I have been alive, I never really had any desire to read his work. I know that probably seems a bit shallow, but see how it transfers to other forms of entertainment. Can you honestly say that you enjoy the same musical artists as your parents? I’m guessing no, but then again if you are really into classical I could see sharing some common interests. For most of us, though, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the Everly Brothers probably don’t have a great deal of appeal. I obviously don’t know if those particular artists are ones that your parents listened to, but mine did, and it was and is actively painful to listen to -even today. Elvis’ rendition of the song Blue Christmas remains the most annoying song ever, IMHO, because of 1) the annoying chanty woohing girls, and 2) you have to hear it hundreds of times a year. Every store on the planet earth seems to have this crap in its Christmas rotation.
That being said, that really wasn’t the only reason I didn’t read King. There was also the supernatural aspect. I just don’t find horror or suspense in the supernatural when reading a book or watching a movie. It makes it difficult for me to empathize with a character when they are attempting to deal with the bogeyman rather than dealing with some real -tangible- adversary. Even if that adversary is within themselves; some of the best fiction I have ever read involves a character battling torment inside their own mind. But there is a difference between someone losing their tenuous grip on sanity and, say, a diesel rig suddenly becoming sentient and killing everyone in sight. I’m sure it takes a great deal of imagination to come up with the latter, but, to me, it just isn’t all that interesting to read. I would much rather see a real person facing a real dilemma -in a real world, governed by real laws of nature and physics.
I did attempt to read one of King’s books while I was in high school. That book was It. It is an 1100 page behemoth of a book that I can’t remember a damn thing about. There was a clown named Pennywise -I only remember that because a band later emerged with the same name. I started reading this one somewhere around my junior year (possibly the end of my sophomore year) and finished it probably about the time I was 19. Certainly not a page-turner, at least not for me. And this was at a time in my life when I routinely read Terry Brooks, who, while not particularly original, wrote some relatively lengthy books that I was able to read over a couple of weeks just finding time between school and work.
All of this is hardly glowing praise of King. However, my opinion began to change when I started reading 11/22/63.
I recently bought a Google Nexus 7 and was playing around with it when I noticed that 11/22/63 was on it -or so I thought. As I would find out later, the first 50 pages or so were on it, and then it just abruptly stopped. I had to buy it to continue reading it. I was pretty surprised to find myself shelling out the 10 bucks for the digital edition without giving it much thought.
The concept of 11/22/63 is not something that is new to me. In fact I have actually penned a couple of stories with the same premise. One of them, which I remember rather fondly, was a short story where someone went back in time (I either can’t remember how or why -or possibly I never explained it) with the intent to stop Kennedy’s assassination. In my short, Oswald was actually killed well over a year before he would take the life of the president. While I can’t remember if I explained exactly how or why, this led to the Cuban missile crisis actually ending in full scale nuclear war. The U.S.A. and Russia both unloaded their full arsenals on each other. The warring countries in the middle east rose to power in the ensuing chaos. Of course I just wrote that out on a whim, having done no research whatsoever into the impossibility of it all. But it was a wonderful idea to play with.
When I started reading 11/22/63, I was really just curious to see where King would take the same idea. Thankfully the appearance of the supernatural in this book is limited to getting to the past in the first place. There are some ‘card men’ that exist in the past (or near the portal in and out of it), but they are trivial to the story, and really only mentioned at the start and end. Once I made it past the getting to the past portion of it, I was really enjoying the story.
King did a wonderful job of building the characters in this book. At the beginning I was hoping that it would quickly handle the stopping Oswald bit and get right on to King’s imagined view of the future if it had never happened. Instead I found myself really empathizing with the Jake/George character as well as his love interest Sadie. By the second half of the book, I didn’t really care if he succeeded or failed in his attempt to stop Oswald, I just wanted to find out what would happen between George and Sadie. Would he stay with her in the past? Would she join him in the future? Of course that decision wasn’t his to make -the past is obdurate, after all.
Without going into any detail about the book -which I am going to avoid because you really should read this book if you haven’t (perhaps particularly if you’re not a fan of King)- I will say that the story was excellent. The history portion of the story was handled with meticulous detail. King clearly did a great deal of research to make sure of the times and places of events to weave his story around -making it seem all the more real. I am not a huge fan of the way he chose to end it, but when it come right down to it, there are really only three ways that it could end and he chose the one that you would probably never have guessed. I’m curious to see if the movie version will share this ending or if they will go with a much happier ending (which either other option would have been).
I liked the book enough that I asked my Mom what her favorite King book was. She said The Stand. I am reading it now. Hopefully this one will keep me as engaged as 11/22/63 did, and if so, I may find myself reading the rest of King’s work. It really has been much better than expected so far.