Has Stephen King become too nice?


11/22/63 by Stephen King

At first, I avoided reading this book, partly because I’d sworn of Stephen King and partly because I knew any book about stopping the Kennedy assassination was probably a baby boomer nostalgia fest. But the book landed in my lap—like a gift-wrapped brick—it’s friggin 880 pages! I picked it up and was immediately reminded why I’d loved King in the first place.

King was my writer hero for a long time. Whenever I think that a YA novel is too violent or scary for teens, I remember that I used to devour King books from about age 13 on. (Yes, I’m slightly scarred from it. Can’t get that image from The Raft out of my head to this day.) There’s something about King’s novels that really resonated with my teenage self, and given his popularity, with most of human kind. He lets us face look into the darkest pits of human terror from the relatively safety of a the living room couch.

But I gave him up after a while because his books had become bloated tomes. I’ll say it: King needs an editor, a really brave and honest one who can also wield a sledgehammer with the same head smashing accuracy as one of his characters does in this book.

King gets so many things right in 11/22/63: great well-drawn characters, an intriguing situation—if you had the opportunity to change history would you do it? And how much would you sacrifice to do it? He re-creates a very real world of the past and even branches into a bit of sci-fi speculation about what it would mean to change the future.

Naturally, he also gets the darkness right–He is the master of horror after all–but there’s far too much sunshine in this book. By that I mean, he’s too nice to his characters. He let’s his main character Jack live in the glory days of the early sixties for too long. He becomes a successful teacher, changes kids lives, finds love–and there’s scene after scene of this. Yes, I know King is setting him up for a fall, but my he takes his sweet time getting there. This is where the sledgehammer edit should have come. He should have lost three to four chapters worth of the fluffy cream in the middle.

Still though, 11/22/63 is well worth the wading through extra fluff, and I can’t help but recommend it highly. Because even after the some hundred stories he has written, King still has some interesting things to say about human nature—and he’s still one hell of a storyteller.


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6 Responses to Has Stephen King become too nice?

  1. I agree that King’s books are bloated. My favorite example came from “Dead Zone” where he spent chapter after chapter on a traveling salesman who sold a lightning rod to a bar, and disappeared from the rest of the novel. My editor would have said “cut him.” I found it so ironic that he talks about the importance of editing in “On Writing.” Makes me wonder what he cuts out.

    I think he has mellowed out since getting sober. I’m glad he’s getting better, but wish he’d tap into the dark side again. Then again, I heard “Under the Dome” gets pretty edgy

    • sarazaske says:

      Haven’t read Under the dome. I may check more King out again. He really is a talented writer and has some fabulous ideas. He just needs to reign it in a bit!

  2. CGsaysstuff says:

    Agreed! I became tired of all the sugar and spice and sock hop happiness in 11/22/63, it became work to stick it out for the real meat of the story.

  3. Claire Ady says:

    ha ha! I was scarred as a teen by King, too. I really liked this book, but yours is an interesting take – about him being too nice to his characters. I agree that if there was less niceness my arms wouldn’t have got so tired so quickly from reading such a long book.

    • sarazaske says:

      Totally, I read on the train, and it was hard to bring that huge book along every day. But I did it because the thread of the story still had me hooked. I just remember thinking so many times–come on get back to the story!

  4. CL says:

    It’s so disappointing when authors are allowed to write bloated books. I haven’t heard about this one, though! Despite the fluff, it does sound interesting.

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