Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  • Comments: ↓ 5 user comments
  • Publish Date: November 3, 2011

Last updated on November 21.

History in the making

11/22/63 by Stephen King 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Scribner (Nov. 8, 2011)
Hardcover, 960 pages, $35
Kindle, $16.99
Critic Reviews
Positive 30
Mixed bar 4
Negative 2

Stephen King's latest super-sized novel is not a horror story; rather, it's an extensively researched work of historical fiction ... with a twist. High school teacher Jake Epping, the protagonist of 11/22/63, uses a time machine (probably the same one King himself uses to write so many massive books in such a short period of time) to travel to the late 1950s and early '60s in an attempt to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. As was the case with his previous novel, Under the Dome, King first started writing 11/22/63 in the 1970s, only to abandon the book for decades before finally completing it.

Collected below are the professional reviews published for 11/22/63. Click on any linked publication name to go to that site to read the full review. (Some reviews may not be available online; those publication names are not linked.)

Liked it Associated Press / Rob Merrill  
The book is a delightful blend of history and fantasy. ... King's eye for period detail is sharp.
Loved it A.V. Club / Zack Handlen  
11/22/63 is King's best novel in years, minimizing his flaws and embracing the haunting, melancholic tone that has come to define his work. [Grade: A-]
Liked it Bloomberg / Andrew Dunn  
In the age of "Mad Men" and "Pan Am" it's refreshing to see a take on the era of sexism, segregation and cigarettes that's not decked out in stylish suits, cocktail shakers and jumbo jets. King specializes in quotidian horror: the dull job, the brutal spouse, the monster in the tract home behind the Montgomery Ward warehouse.
Liked it Booklist / Daniel Kraus September 15, 2011
This doesn't loom as large as some King epics; on the other hand, did we appreciate It in 1986 as much as we do now? Leave it at this: fans will love it.
Liked it BookPage / Trisha Ping  
This quietly moving and thought-provoking book, with its unexpectedly poignant ending, is a compelling tale.
Liked it Chicago Tribune / Julia Keller  
Many writers have undertaken time-travel stories, but what's marvelous and enthralling about "11/22/63" is that you really feel that Jake's in a new place — that is, in an old place, the past. There is a beautiful, unsettling strangeness about everything, from the clothes to the music to the cars — yet it is also familiar, because we know it. ... [But] it's true that after the novel's midpoint, things begin to drag.
Liked it Cleveland Plain Dealer / Michelle Jarboe McFee  
Like many of King's recent works -- "Lisey's Story" and "Duma Key," in particular -- "11/22/63" has a sweetness that will surprise readers who think of him as a horror scribe.
Liked it The Columbus Dispatch [Ohio] / Alan Johnson  
It's impossible not to enjoy Stephen King's new "What if?" book, 11/22/63, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. ... It is possible, however, to feel a little hollow after finishing King's latest novel. ... That said, 11/22/63 is an enjoyable blend of time travel, history, romance and '60s nostalgia in which the suspense is muted but ever present. Few writers could pull this off without the stitches showing, but King manages.
Liked it Financial Times / Adam LeBor  
The key to any novel set in an alternate reality is credible world-building, the steady accumulation of detail – preferably lightly distributed – that brings the story alive. King succeeds in this, partly by drawing on his own memories. ... The tension flags in the middle section while Epping is stalking Oswald during the early 1960s, even though King drops in several sub-plots and a love interest in an attempt to keep the narrative going.
Liked it Fort Worth Star-Telegram / David Martindale  
Essentially, King has taken a familiar Twilight Zone premise and breathed fresh new life into it by exploring not just an intriguing time-travel fantasy scenario, but by fleshing everything out to its fullest and reacquainting us with an era radically different from today.
Loved it The Globe and Mail (Toronto) / Robert J. Wiersema  
You don't have to be a King fan to be delighted by 11/22/63, though. You don't have to be a horror fan, even. The novel is a narratively thrilling, thoughtful, character-centred journey into the heart of the American dream. It will have you laughing and leaning breathlessly over the pages. It will make you stay up past bedtime, and it will make you cry. What more can you ask of a book?
Loved it The Guardian / Mark Lawson  
Going backwards proves to be another step forward for the most remarkable storyteller in modern American literature.
Liked it Houston Chronicle (Bookish blog) / Dwight Silverman  
As is usually the case with King's longer books, there's a lot of self-indulgent fat in 11/22/63 that could have trimmed. ... Still, this is one of King’s best books in a long time, certainly a better read than his last overlong work, Under the Dome, which I found to be unnecessarily mean. King often scores better when he’s eschewing shock and gore for a rollicking plot, sympathetic characters and cultural musings. He does it so well here that you won’t even notice that 850 pages have flown by.
Liked it Kirkus Reviews  
Though his scenarios aren't always plausible in strictest terms, King's imagination, as always, yields a most satisfying yarn.
Liked it London Evening Standard / David Sexton  
This book is not exciting and it goes on vastly too long. It's an over-explicit 740 pages, when it could better have been a suggestive novella. We only ever have the time to read a limited number of novels of such length and this one doesn't make the cut.
Mixed Los Angeles Times / David L. Ulin  
"11/22/63" reads like two books welded together.
Loved it Maine Sunday Telegram / Frank O Smith  
This is classic King, one of the great imaginative storytellers of our time. His talent is less about being the prince of fright and more truly about being the king of surprise and story craft. And he doesn't fail his readers here. ... The book is riveting and entertaining.
Loved it Miami Herald / Rene Rodriguez  
This addictive, heart-stopping and ultimately moving novel is really a distillation of what King has always done so well, without the third-act problems that have plagued so many of his recent books and featuring a monster — time — that is most certainly not make-believe.
Liked it Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Mike Fischer  
Oswald is a punk, and even a master storyteller like King can't make him - or the contrived plot twists through which Jake eventually concludes there was no conspiracy - very compelling. But as Kennedy's trip to Dallas grows closer, the pace of the novel quickens, culminating in a great set piece that it wouldn't be fair to disclose.
Mixed National Post (Canada) / Philip Marchand  
I wish the writing had more grace.
Liked it New York Post / Billy Heller  
King spends an awful lot of time on the mundane daily life of Oswald and his family. ... But the days and hours leading up to events we now know as unfortunate history read like a great thriller.
Loved it The New York Times / Janet Maslin  
Mr. King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery. ... The pages of “11/22/63” fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick.
Loved it NPR (All Things Considered) / Alan Cheuse  
The combination of King's love of the '50s and his deeper search into the Kennedy assassination make this novel a terrifically entertaining work of fiction. ... If I could go back in time, I wouldn't have him change a single page.
Liked it The Oregonian / Douglas Perry  
King's ability to place us in mid-20th-century America is uncanny.
Liked it Publishers Weekly / Peter Cannon September 19, 2011
King ... does a fine job evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the late '50s and early '60s. The root beer even tastes better back then.
Loved it San Diego Union-Tribune / Peter Rowe  
Our reigning emperor of dread has pulled off an impressive feat. At nearly 850 pages, "11 /22 /63" is [hard] to pick up, but it's even harder to put down. ... It's true that no ghosts, vampires or killer clowns stalk "11 /22 /63." Yet this may be his most haunted, and haunting, work.
Mixed San Francisco Chronicle / Michael Berry  
Among King's other novels, "11/22/63" most resembles 1979's "The Dead Zone," another story of a character with foreknowledge of a terrible future attempting to prevent disaster, while paying a great personal cost. The earlier book is among King's best - lean, tight and unforgiving - and this new novel, despite its undeniable suspense, sometimes feels like a bloated shadow. Maybe it's better not to revisit what worked well enough the first time.
Liked it St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Amanda St. Amand  
One of the most ambitious tales he's crafted.
Loved it St. Petersburg Times / Colette Bancroft  
In 11/22/63, King has written a splendid combination of dark fantasy, hold-your-breath thriller and sweetly moving romance. ... Harrowing, heroic and heartbreaking, 11/22/63 is a trip into the past you won't want to miss.
Liked it The Star-Ledger [Newark] / Victoria Truslow  
The overwhelming impression: A book impeccably researched, but lazily put together.
Mixed Star Tribune [Minneapolis] / Carole E. Barrowman  
It pains me (truly) to have to write this next sentence. King's "11/22/63" is a boring read. ... OK, the book's not all dull. ... [But] the pages and pages of Oswald's domestic dramas and the chapters and chapters of the comings and goings of others involved in shaping his twisted psyche were just not that interesting.
Liked it Time (Magazine) / Gilbert Cruz November 14, 2011
Like the author's last several novels (Under the Dome, Duma Key), 11/22/63 succeeds mostly because of its masterly structure and plot.
Liked it Time (Website) / Lev Grossman  
11/22/63 isn't your typical King outing ... But whatever it is, it's obviously the work of a master craftsman. ... The build-up is better than the payoff, as it almost always is. But there’s a lot to be said for a good build-up, and it’s not a cop-out. 11/22/63 asks a good question: what if this world—as cruel, tragic and horrifying as it is—really is the best of all possible worlds?  If there’s no good answer to that question, it’s not King’s fault.
Liked it Toronto Star / Sarah Murdoch  
I confess, what with the minutiae of the Oswalds' day-to-day lives and George's rich personal life, I got bogged down around page 400. 11/22/63 is a great place to visit, but I don't want to live there — brilliant though this book is, it would have been better had it been 300 pages shorter.
Loved it USA Today / Don Oldenburg  
Readers will be reminded of the suspenseful tension of King's horror tales. But 11/22/63 is no nightmare. It is not typical Stephen King. It is extraordinary Stephen King.
Liked it The Washington Post / Jeff Greenfield  
A tale richly layered with the pleasures we've come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story. ... But the piling on of detail after detail slows the pace and the pull of the story. In contrast to very long books like "The Stand" and "Under the Dome," this work could have benefited from some serious paring.

What do you think?

Have you read 11/22/63? Leave us a comment below to let us know what you think of the book.

Comments (5)

  • happyman  

    Please I made some tiny errors in my review first the title I should have said 11-22-63 my second mistake, I said you will be dissapointed, a slip of the keyboard, sorry, YOU WILL MOST CERTAINLY WILL NOT BE DISSAPOINTED a fantastic read, look out for the film

  • happyman  

    I must say that I am not a fan of Stephen Kings books, but am very interested in the Kennedy history, so when I saw 11-24-63 I bought it for that reason, and what a fantastic read it was, Stephen King makes you feel part of the story,plus the romance with Sadie makes our hero really human, Oswald is a bore as a man so to write about him only would be a loss to the book, I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the Kennedys assasination and to anyone who has fallen in love, you will be dissapointed, I promise

  • ziccarda  

    Can't wait to read it, though I'm a little disappointed that the book is $16 for the kindle edition.

  • Antithesis  

    This is a great feature! I have the same request as LamontRaymond. Please do this again!.. Oh, and thank you Jason Dietz for this book review.

  • LamontRaymond  

    Love seeing book reviews back on the site! Please do this again for "event" books in the future.

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