“Life turns on a dime.” – Stephen King, in “11/22/63”
Mollie and I had been looking forward to reading King’s new novel ever since it came out last year, but we decided to delay until we could read it together and discuss it in parallel during a cruise. The plan worked out really well; she read it on her kindle and I on the iPad while we cruised the eastern Caribbean. What made this extra pleasurable is the nostalgia the book held for us, and that we could discuss it as we read along.
It’s not giving too much away, I think, to tell you that “11/22/63” is about time travel, possibly through parallel universes, and an attempt to alter history by preventing John F. Kennedy’s assassination. King has always had a rare ability to take outlandish notions and make them seem real, and he has never been more effective at that than in this book. One way he does it is to envision the past as being resistant to change, or in his word, “obdurate”. Clever. But that clever plot device is simply a way of overdosing the reader on nostalgia for the era and enabling a rip-roaring action plot and appealing characters. In our opinion the book is one of King’s best. The kindle-for-iPad software edition even offers a bonus at the end of the book- a 13 minute film of Kennedy’s time, produced and narrated by King.
Kennedy’s era is particularly appealing to us because that was when we started out as young adults – we were married in 1960 and that was our time. Submarine school in 1961, then first submarine duty in Pearl Harbor. Kennedy visited Hawaii and we saw his motorcade pass by when we were there, albeit at a distance. The Interstate Highway System was just being built – we drove on some parts of it on our way to the West Coast. (I remember that Missouri seemed to have the best highways then.) Our car had no air conditioning then – it was rare – and the “motor courts” often didn’t either that hot summer of 1961.
The Cuban Missile Crisis – I remember outfitting the boat with war-shot torpedoes and supplies throughout the night. We had to load for a 90-day war patrol and had so many canned goods that some had to be stacked in the passageways – we were walking on food! Duty at the Naval Ordnance Test Unit at Cape Canaveral in 1964, helping launch real missiles down range. I was one of the Test Engineers and often was stationed aboard the Polaris boat, counting down the launch over the underwater telephone to the monitoring ship. (King notes in the book that Kennedy visited the Cape to observe the launch of a Polaris Missile about 1962.) And one other aspect of life then – everybody smoked. So many memories roil up from King’s careful research.
The passing of Dick Clark now propels an added wave of nostalgia to roil the memories. What an interesting concept it is, to think of the immutable past. To think of the choices that were and how things might have been if those choices had been made differently. What if . . . ? King gives the reader a glimpse of what he thinks might be possible, including some political speculation. He surprised me with that.
Life really does turn on a dime.