Stephen King's Novel 11/22/63

When Jake Eppings, a high school teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine visits Al, the owner of a local diner, the latter reveals a time tunnel in the diner’s kitchen, which could take him back to September 9, 1958, specifically at 11:58 a.m.  Al has traveled through the tunnel several times to buy cheap beef for his diner but in his latest trip, he tried to prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination. When his health begins to deteriorate, he returns to tell Jake everything and asks the teacher to take on the mission. Jake at first hesitates but eventually agrees to save Kennedy from Lee Harvey Oswald, and using Al’s notes, he carries out the plan to stop the assassin. What Jake didn’t realize is changing such a momentous event redirects the course of history, the Butterfly Effect.

John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963

Time travel isn’t new in literature and through nitpicking we can always find technical flaws. In this case, given the asymmetry of the time tunnel, it is interesting to ask: if someone at Lisbon Falls on September 9, 1958 steps into the “rabbit hole” what date and time would she emerge into?

Lee Harvey Oswald in Custody

But nitpicking aside, Stephen King, through his research, succeeds in painting a picture of the cultural and social environment during the late 50s and early 60s, particularly in Maine and around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. King has delayed writing the novel for years because he needs time to research that era and he has succeed in the effort and written a novel that immerses the reader in the local climate of that period. And the characters come alive because of the local flavors.

The Butterfly Effect

After reading the novel, the reader would reflect on the causality of historical events, i.e. the Butterfly Effect on a global scale. What if Hitler didn’t rise to power? What if Gandhi remained a lawyer in South Africa? Would the world be better or worse in either case? We don’t know. We observe a triumph or a tragedy in history and we evaluate it according to our values and biases but a triumph may lead to a catastrophe and a tragedy a breakthrough. I wonder whether one day our supercomputers can predict the course of human history through Genetic Algorithms, Dynamic Programming, and other stochastic estimation methods. But at any moment in history, without knowing the “global optimum,” we like Jake Eppings would still strive for the “best” according to our values. We are human. We are only human.

Germinal: Emile Zola's Realist Literature

The wobbly cages descending into the pit, miners half-naked toiling in the scorching darkness of the mine’s galleries, the veins bursting and flooding the passages, the meager wages the miners receive at the end of the day, the wives desperately scouring for gruel each meal, the parents giving their daughters to the grocer to get flour and sugar; all recounted in a calmly detached voice.

Etienne, a vagrant worker, joined the fraternity and dissatisfied with the inhuman daily drudges and ambitious to rise above these defeated and resigned miners organized them into a union and led the strike. But the strike revealed as much the indifference of the owners and managers as the ignorance and violence of the miners. After many lives perished, many families shattered, many mines destroyed, the strike failed, the miners returned to work and Etienne left. In Germinal, Zola harmonized the detached narrative voice with the miner’s sub-human existence and their potential for gratuitous evil to evoke a chilling sonata that would haunt the reader long after the novel’s conclusion.

Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time: Memory Dispersed in Space and Time

Proust's Masterpiece on Memory and Time and Space

More than a commentary on Swann’s jealousy or M. Charlus’s homosexuality or the frivolity of the Guermantes’ sorties, Marcel Proust’s monumental work In Search of Lost Time paints the unsuccessful reconstruction of a forgone world and a lost existence from fickle memories, which like morning mists would fade with the rising sun. The narrator Marcel, longing for a past that didn’t exist but must be created, sought to experience Bergson’s continuous time rather than the fragmented and still-framed instantaneous moments by attempting to blur the boundaries between Cambray and Paris, childhood and adolescence, and Swann and himself and integrate here and there, before and after, and him and me through memory fragments of previous objects, people and sensations. As in a neural network or a mind-map, the madeleine linked his aunt to his mother, who in turn was linked to Albertine through jealousy, which also connected Marcel with Saint Loop and Swann, who, as with his (Marcel’s) grandmother, linked his childhood and adolescence. And through recollection, Marcel would try to relive the buried years and resurrect his grandmother and Albertine.

      But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory’s willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice.
Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust’s novel but also that of the narrator.

      Whether we savor Marcel’s frailness, Swann’s infatuation, Charlus’s pompousness, Franscoise’s independent-mindedness, the sorties’ frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust’s classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel’s three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time’s transience and memory’s playfulness as if they were mountain breezes.

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake

Book Review of Oryx and Crake

“Oh, Snowman, what happened to Richard Nixon?”

“Shit! I mean, egad. He has offended Almighty Crake and His wrath was upon him. The spraygun is holy unto Crake and only Snowman could touch it. As Dick touched it, the Great Crake smote him unto death.”

“Oh, Snowman, tell us what we must do to please Almighty Crake.”

“Well, Abe, first off, get Snowman four fish daily, make that six. You must understand the more fish, the more it would please Crake. And hear this all Crakers. Never touch the spraygun or thou shall be struck dead like Dick.”

“But oh, Snowman, why this object and not others?”

“Thus spake Crake, Thou shall not touch the spraygun.”

“Oh, Snowman, how did this world came to be?”

“What? Well, Marie, in the beginning, there was Crake and He…”

Damn Crake, it all your fault. You created this mess and now I have to clean up your cesspool. I should’ve killed you earlier. I just want to eat my ChickieNob and drink my Happicuppa coffee. But no, you have to create a new heaven and a new earth.

“And where did Crake come from?”


Snowman knows he will soon follow the footsteps of the dinosaurs and the Crakers will inherit the earth. He must leave them before he dies. And they would say he has rode a chariot of fire into the heavens where Crake dwells. They would venerate him as The Prophet and tell stories of how he slew the dragons, well, maybe just the wolvogs and pigoons.

                                             Margaret Atwood (Source: Vanwaffle at Wikimedia)

Oryx and Crake is Margaret Atwood’s apocalypse, a bioengineering nightmare of wolvogs and pigoons and rakunks and of viruses embedded in aphrodisiac pills. Crake engineered a new species, the Crakers, and eliminated humans with an eboli-type virus. After killing Crake to avenge the death of his beloved Oryx, Snowman became the guardian of the new species and must protect them against the genetically engineered beasts as well as from knowledge and wisdom. When he discovers three human survivors, he must decide whether to befriend them or eliminate them.

Emily Antles in the nonfiction Frankenstein’s Cat depicted the current advances in genetic engineering. Today, bioengineers have created balding mice, glow-in-the-dark cats and cows that give therapeutic milk and they could just as easily make wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks.

The novel’s premise supplies food for thought, and though the writing isn’t as compelling as that in The Handmaid’s Tale, it is a worthwhile read.