I just finished reading Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63. Okay, slight clarification, I just finished listening to all 30ish hours of it on audiobook. This is not going to be a review of the book, beyond saying it’s likely the best book he’s written in years and the one I’ve most enjoyed since Duma Key a few years back.
As King ages, his work gets a little more uneven, but I don’t think that’s much of a criticism for a guy that’s written well over fifty novels, short story collections and two non-fic books. Hell, Chuck Palahniuk hit uneven about seven books in from his spectacular debut with Fight Club. The cracks began with Haunted, widened incredibly by Snuff and then it all fell to shit with the mess known as Pygmy where Chuck Palahniuk fell into the habit of parodying Chuck Palahniuk. He was in the lead for favourite author…but he kept writing. I haven’t read his last two. I’m scared they’ll lower my opinion of him even more and take more time out of my life.
My point is, I’ve never felt that about King, even at his worst…and when he’s bad, he is bad. Tommyknockers still stands as, to me, his all-time shittiest book. Lisey’s Story (the one that the literary community heaped all kinds of praise for) runs a damn close second.
But with 11/22/63, the storyteller is back. Yes, the book likely could have been two to three-hundred pages leaner, but overall, it’s an enjoyable story. And for those of you who’s eyes have already glazed over because you “don’t read horror”, well, that’s lovely. Go read this. It ain’t horror. No more than Shawshank Redemption (from the story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption) or Stand By Me (from the story The Body) or the Green Mile were horror.
Just damn good storytelling from a damn good author that still knows how to entertain. What made it even more fun for a long-time reader such as myself is the huge references to both his horror magnum opus, It and also Christine and smaller nods to the aforementioned Shawshank Redemption.
Anyway, all of that was me getting sidetracked as I usually do on this blog. The main thing I wanted to talk about was a big element of the storyline of 11/22/63, which is about the main character, Jake Epping, going back in time with the intent of saving JFK from the assassin’s bullet. There’s a couple of phrases that come up repeatedly as plot points. One is, “the past is obdurate”, meaning the past will fight against anyone who attempts to change it.
The other, and the one I want to talk about, is “the past harmonizes”. What King does is create several echoes throughout the book. A couple of young students learning to dance to Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” gets echoed later on with Jake and Sadie dancing to the same tune. A scene witnessed outside a bar where a man takes a knife to his own throat after stating a couple of lines of dialogue are echoed in a frightful scene later on in the book that I won’t spoil, but made me aware of just how much of a genius King can be when he puts his mind to it. It’s also echoed in guns, cars, names…many things.
The interesting, and more than a little creepy, thing about all this is what’s happened to me in the three days since I’ve finished the novel.
The first I noticed was when I started on the very next audiobook, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. There’s a character that I came across very quickly named Deke. The same as a fairly important secondary character from 11/22/63. At that point of discovery, I thought, huh, interesting.
Then, this morning, while walking my dog, I listened to another passage from The Traveler and they mentioned an event that happened in the past. Specifically, the year 1849. No big deal, right? But last night, I was listening to an old greatest hits album by the band Lighthouse. I wasn’t sure, so I went down to my office this morning after coming back from the walk and looked at the song I’d paused halfway through on the computer. It was the song “1849”. That’s the first time I officially thought, the past harmonizes.
Then, after the walk, I decided to reward myself with a first day of vacation relaxation day. So I popped in a movie I’ve been wanting to watch for quite a while. It was X-Men: First Class. And on the screen, I watched the story unfold about a fictionalized Cuban Missile Crisis and footage of…JFK. And I thought for the second time in two hours, the past harmonizes.
Okay, none of these things are huge, and they’re all obviously coincidental. My point is, only someone who’s an absolute master of their craft could put together story elements that, with only the slightest coincidence, leave the book resonating with you for days afterward.
*** UPDATE: The harmonies just keep coming. I’m also currently reading a Conan book that brings together some of the longer short stories of Robert E. Howard. And tonight, as the family sat watching season two of The Big Bang Theory, Penny got addicted to an online video game…The Age of Conan.
This is becoming a bit weird.