A number of television shows and movies have commemorated the anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. PBS recently broadcast a new documentary in its American Experience series, JFK. The two-part examination of Kennedy’s life featured some new footage and it brought new understanding about Kennedy’s health problems. CNN’s The Assassination of President Kennedy is a fascinating portrayal of the events around the killing using a lot of archival footage I had never seen before (see video below). Meanwhile, the National Geographic Channel presented a dramatization of the period leading up to the assassination with its TV-movie version of Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Kennedy, which one might find superficial but still entertaining. While some have wondered if popular culture is overdoing the commemoration of the national tragedy of our president’s death, I found a quiet way to contemplate the anniversary by reading a novel related to the event: Stephen King‘s 11/22/63.
The novel explores a famous what-if question about “what if you could go back and time and prevent a horrible event from happening?” In 11/22/63, the narrator is Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Maine who learns from his friend Al about a time portal that will take him back to 1958. With some experimentation, Jake and Al discuss whether one may change the past and how the world might have been different had Lee Harvey Oswald not killed Kennedy. What happens if history is changed? Can it be changed? And what if Oswald was not the person who killed Kennedy?
As King explains in his “Afterword,” he did a significant amount of research about Oswald, and the book is informative about the main players we associate with the events leading up to the assassination. But the book is more than a novel about a killing. King provides an interesting portrayal of life in America in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The protagonist of the novel is not Oswald or Kennedy but Jake Epping, and it is his life that fascinates us. Epping becomes the focal point in the context of major world events while King meditates on the fragility of both life and history. The book is long, but it is fast reading, and it is Jake’s story that makes it a page-turner that you cannot put down.
Conclusion? 11/22/63 is a fun read that also asks some big questions. And while enjoying the book you might learn a little bit along the way. Earlier this year it was reported that the novel may be made into a TV series or miniseries, but the book is so fun you should read it. In the meantime, below you may check out part one and part two of CNN’s The Assassination of President Kennedy.
What is your favorite historical novel? Leave your two cents in the comments.