Story Title: 11/22/63
Author Name: Stephen King
Category: Published Book
Story Url: Amazon
Content Rating: Adult
Status: Published 2012
Length: 880 pages
Story Summary: Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out. President John F. Kennedy is dead. Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
This is probably going to be biggest rant I’ve ever written for a book I actually like.
I’ve wanted to read a Stephen King novel for years. He’s an accomplished writer with a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, I get nightmares far too easily to touch most of his books. My husband, a long time fan, encouraged me to try King’s 2012 time travel novel, 11/22/63. The time travel genre has interested me since childhood – something about the concept of lost opportunities is just entrancing – so I read my first Stephen King novel this week.
If you want to skip the ranting, I’ll simply say that it’s a very intriguing story, brilliantly researched in spite of a few glaring mistakes, and the characters are pitch perfect. If you’re a Texan who loves the Lone Star state, though, prepare to be ticked off periodically throughout the book.
Mid-way through this book, I began quizzing my mother, a highly-educated professional in the field of linguistics and a fourth generation Texan, about both her experiences in Dallas in 1963, as well as several other linguistic, cultural and factual mistakes in 11/22/63. I couldn’t believe that a book as well-researched as this one is could contain so many incorrect details, particularly since in each case, even the silly, minor inaccuracies seemed to consistently indicate a clear disgust with Texas and Texans.
For example, and please excuse how trivial this example may sound, Dallas and Fort Worth do not stink of petroleum products, nor have they ever in the last 50 years, to my knowledge. In fact, the DFW region has long been known for its startlingly clear air. With most of my adult life lived outside of my native state, I can attest to how jarring it is to drive south on I-35 and suddenly see very clear details on the buildings of downtown Dallas, 30 miles or more in the distance. It’s how I always knew I was almost home. My mother and I can both tell stories of friends we’ve brought to Texas dating back to the 1960s, all of whom have remarked on this phenomena. The west Texas oil fields which King seemed to indicate were responsible for a stench across DFW are 350 miles away.
Next, the word “Y’all” is a second-person plural form of address. In Spanish, one would use, “ustedes.” In Italian it is “voi.” In French, “vous.” American English lacks an official second-person plural pronoun. Regionally, though, one will hear, “you guys,” “you all,” or the contraction, “y’all.” No born-and-bred Southerner would use, “y’all” to address one individual. I’m not sure whether King needs a reminder about the use of apostrophes in a contraction (“Y’all” = “You all,” indicating more than one person is being addressed), or if it is simply that he and his editors have no southerners among their close friends.
There are numerous other errors I could point out, but there’s one issue I think in particular needs to be addressed: that of bigotry in Texas. First, I’ll provide some personal details I would not normally list online. I am of mixed heritage. Going back just two generations maternally, you’ll find Jews (from Stuttgart) and Cherokees (from Alabama) mixed with distant descendants of Europeans. As a child, I was usually taken for a Mexican or Tico, which suited me fine, as I grew up in Spanish speaking countries. So, the following is based on my own experiences, and will therefore be flawed.
Texas absolutely has issues with bigotry, as does every other plot of land on this cursed planet. But the kind of community outrage King describes in 11/22/63 as occurring widely in DFW regarding the threat of integration is something none of my family ever witnessed. My mother’s high school was fully integrated in 1963, the year she transferred from another school that had been fully integrated for many years before that. The elementary schools in her 1963 school district were already integrated, and the upper grades had been slowly integrated, beginning some time before 1963. Shamefully, we believe the reason for this integration had more to do with the excessive cost of busing segregated students around than any civil rights issues. During the 1963-1964 school year, my relatives cannot recall a single protest, nor a single newspaper article referencing any protest, of the integrated schools across the state. Let me add to that fact, that her integrated school was in a district which had extremely affluent white residents mingled with middle-class, multi-cultural residents. That community should’ve been ripe for riots and protests if King’s descriptions of Texas were accurate. My grandmother cleaned houses for affluent white families for years with a partner who was black. The two of them ate together, worked together, traveled together, and neither of them was ever criticized, ridiculed or bothered. This might have been different if either of them had been Mexican.
In his Acknowledgements at the end of 11/22/63, King includes a mini diatribe against Texas and Texans which disgusted me. This wasn’t a non-fiction account which required a journalistic approach and a lack of bias, but I wish he hadn’t been so blatant in his attitudes. He rightfully pointed out that the behavior of some Texans toward Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy and the Johnsons was disrespectful, ill-mannered and absolutely out of line. However, he neglects to acknowledge that this sort of behavior is not unique to Texas, nor to that presidency. Presidents have been treated with such wretched abuse for decades, if not much, much longer. Did Jackie Kennedy deserve to be spat upon? Of course not! Nor did Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Regan…shall I go on? Implying, as he does, that Texans were unique in their awful behavior on the occasions he cited is wrong. He had the opportunity here to address something broader, and he blew it.
King did a fantastic job of showing much that was good and much that was bad about the 1950s and 1960s. There’s a jarring tale included of a time the protagonist goes looking for a bathroom while on a road trip, and finds a men’s restroom, a woman’s restroom, and a sign with an arrow for “Coloreds.” The sign directs black patrons down a rough, poison-ivy lined path to a board across a stream, where women can squat and men can stand against a tree. It’s an amazing, eye-opening method of depicting the sickness of racism that has plagued our country for centuries.
But the author had the opportunity here to do more. Unfortunately, he runs the risk of alienating much of his Texas audience due to numerous silly mistakes (far more than I’ll list here), seemingly born of his own bigotry. 11/22/63 is a spectacular time-travel story, a plot device that allows for excellent comparison/contrasts of 1958-1963 vs. 2011. Within the subtext there is a very important message about what has changed, and what still needs to change, since then.
I love Texas. I also am immensely unhappy about the bigotry toward Hispanics which has existed there for generations. I know without a doubt that there has also been inexcusable bigotry towards those of other races and creeds. I also know without a doubt that such bigotry is present in New England, Chicago, California and in every other region in this country, and outside of it. Sin and hatred are a universal commodity. If King wants to make a difference with his books, he needs to quit scapegoating a culture he clearly neither understands nor respects and focus on treating all mankind with the fairness and equality he’s demanding of it.
One of the many things Stephen King did get right, though, is his depiction of certain so-called evangelists from that era. My grandfather is a preacher and author of some renown, and was so even in 1963. However, King’s depiction of preacher Billy James Hargis is so outside my experience, I initially wondered if the author invented Hargis, or exaggerated his characteristics. He didn’t. To paraphrase my mother, during the 50s and 60s, radio preachers like Hargis were a dime a dozen. They were sickening, mixing the Gospel of Christ with political propaganda and racist, blasphemous drivel. Corrupting and misquoting the story of Noah the way Hargis does in this story was, apparently, a common way that many in the U.S. tried to excuse racial prejudice. I was sorry to learn that Stephan King was completely right in this depiction. How nauseating that the very people who should have been sharing a message of grace, acceptance and equality, instead distorted it to excuse their own cowardly, twisted beliefs!
If you can therefore tolerate the clear authorial bias, read the book. It really is a good story, and King gets far more right than otherwise. It could’ve been better. But then, that’s probably the epithet for nearly every book written.
One final note: This story does include scenes of an adult nature (though they are not explicit), violence, and a great deal of swearing. I would not consider it appropriate for children or young teens.