I'm an unapologetic Stephen King fan, but damn if the man doesn't have a problem sticking a landing (see: It). With his new novel, a time-traveling take on John F. Kennedy's assassination titled 11/22/63, Uncle Stevie nails it from start to finish, flashing his forceful chops all bright and pearly. He started working on the 840-page tome in 1972, but abandoned it because "even nine years after the deed, the wound was still too fresh." Glad he took his time—it was well worth it.
Jake Epping is a high school teacher in Maine, who frequents a diner owned by the chain-smoking Al. So when Al mysteriously asks him to the restaurant in the middle of the night, it shocks the shit out of Jake to discover a time bubble to 1958 in the pantry, which Al has been frequenting to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating JFK. Al succumbs to cancer before he can complete his mission, but not before he persuades Jake to take over. During the five years that Jake spends in the past, he stops a horrific homicide in Derry, Maine, makes the obligatory long-shot sports bets, lives and works and falls in love in idyllic Jodie, Texas, and spies on Oswald to ensure the little weasel was the lone gunman in 1963. But as King is wont to point out, the past is obdurate, and Jake's attempts to tweak it are met with dangerous obstacles, not the least of which is paralyzing self-doubt about the ethics and benefits of changing the course of history.
King has always been at his best when he blends tidbits of the supernatural with riveting characters and set pieces, and 11/22/63 is his finest example. The man spins gold—and I dare anyone to pick up his newest without clutching the doorstopper to their chest at every coffee break, slurping it down like a greedy word baby. In a brilliant move (which King partially attributes to his son Joe Hill, writer of the terrific comic Locke & Key), the ending of 11/22/63 is brazenly preordained by the dust jacket, the front imprinted with real newspaper headlines from Dallas, the back showing the altered past's front page, "JFK Escapes Assassination, First Lady Also OK!" Jake's journey and historical meddling get the limelight, not necessarily the story's ultimate outcome, which is an ingenious way of sidestepping King's biggest weakness while letting his unquestionable skills shine.