11/22/63 nothing short of unusual

By Anna Boratyn
Features Editor
Stephen King’s new novel 11/22/63   opens with Jake Epping.  The sympathetic Epping is a language arts teacher in Maine in 2011, recently dumped by his alcoholic wife.  
But everything changes when he’s introduced to a hole in time that takes him from 2011 to 1958.
His mission?  To save John F. Kennedy.
In 11/22/63, time travel is less a superpower and more of a responsibility.  It’s not a superpower, because the word “superpower” implies that being able to travel in time makes things easier.  When Epping is about to change the course of history, everything goes wrong– he gets sick, people close to him are attacked, and chaos commences.  Furthermore, every time he travels into the past twice, the past resets itself back to the way it was before he ever began time traveling.
He can spend years, decades of his life in the past, but when he gets back to his own time, only two minutes have passed.  In addition to all of these complications, the past actively works against him to prevent change. As Epping repeats many times through the book, “The past is obdurate.”
Epping makes for a fantastic hero mostly because he’s not invincible.  We know that he isn’t a hero in his life in 2011, and when he first gets an opportunity to change the path of history for the better, he doesn’t want to. 
As he dashes impressively from town to town, saving one family from a massacre, and a girl from paralysis, I was strongly reminded of The Doctor, from the long-running British science fiction show Dr. Who. Both Epping and The Doctor face sometimes mysterious forces who wish to keep the past from changing.  And both are, in their own ways, heroic.   
The Doctor, a dapper Brit, travels through time, saving various worlds from annihilation.   And even though the reader knows The Doctor has to be successful in his pursuit —if nothing else, simply for the sake of tradition and the continuation of the show– one’s never quite sure.  Maintaining this uncertainty keeps the reader curious and interested for the entire novel — and that’s no small feat, with 11/22/3 weighing in at 849 pages.
What makes this book exceptional, however, is the fact that Stephen King wrote it.  I’m not talking about the affect of his name on the cover—though it certainly hasn’t hurt sales.  I’m talking about his ability to show the horror and uncertainty in commonplace things.
For example, an old ironworks factory in Derry becomes terrifying when King describes the place so well, it feels like it’s an evil being.
King writes, “I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you one more thing: there was something inside that fallen chimney at the Kitchener Ironworks.  I don’t know what and I don’t want to know, but at the mouth of the thing I saw a heap of gnawed bones and a tiny chewed collar with a bell on it. [. . .] And from deep inside that pipe—deep in that oversized bore—something moved and shuffled.
King keeps the uncertainty alive.  We’re never quite sure what Epping’s “something” was, and it’s futile to speculate.  I don’t think that even King knows what that something is.  Perhaps it’s what makes his novels so strange and exceptional.
Even Stephen King, who practically specializes in writing unusual stories, found 11/22/63 unusual.
“I’ve never tried to write anything like this before. It was really strange at first, like breaking in a new pair of shoes,” King said, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal,” said King. 
This book is best for enduring and open-minded readers who don’t mind long, strange, yet ultimately satisfying reads.