Stephen King’s latest novel is a time-travel fantasy about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At almost 750 pages, 11.22.63 is drawn-out even by blockbuster standards. Critics have bemoaned its surfeit of period detail (bobby socks, Hula Hoops, big-finned cars). I rather enjoyed it. King, now an august-looking 64, is a writer of towering cleverness, whose fiction manages to appeal to a reading public both popular and serious. Much of what passes these days for literary fiction is mere creative writing. Give me genre fiction (John le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith) any day.
A fiction without a story — Kings knows — is scarcely worth its weight in paper. Before King was the emperor of bestsellerdom he studied English at the University of Maine (his birthplace). 11.22.63 is brocaded with allusions to Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe and other American maestros of horror. It is also a science fiction of sorts.
A 35-year-old high teacher from modern day Maine finds himself transported back in time to the late 1950s. Thus exiled from reality, he embarks on a lunatic scheme to change the course of history by saving JFK from the clutches of Lee Harvey Oswald. As the Year of our Lord 1963 approaches, King ratchets up the tension nicely.
While 11.22.63 does not rank with early King it remains very decent King nonetheless. Jonathan Demme is rumoured to be turning the novel into a film. A ‘Back to the Future with politics’ would appeal to post 9/11 Hollywood.