So thanks to my wonderful Dad, I got Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for Christmas, and devoured about 550 pages of it on last night’s plane ride. And it’s interesting thus far.
11/22/63′s pitch is “Man goes back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald,” but realistically it’s not about that at all. The gateway to the past is in 1958, which means that Our Bold Hero has to live through five years of late 1950s/early 1960s life, and the first 500 pages are about him trying to get by in early America. He tries to prevent a couple of past murders he knows will happen, visits wonderful Derry, gets a job as a schoolteacher and settles down. It’s mostly about the feel of America on the cusp of a great change, as viewed through small towns and cities.
The problem is that we’re now at the point where Our Bold Hero is intersecting Lee Harvey Oswald’s path, and it’s boring. Why?
Because Lee Harvey Oswald’s not that interesting a character!
Oh, King’s doing what he can, but Lee Harvey Oswald’s personality is pretty well documented – I struggled to get through all of Bugliosi’s lapbreaker of a book on JFK, and King presents Oswald accurately, in all of his overblown, wife-beating, insecure ways.
But I keep thinking, “Out of all the characters here, I don’t really give a crap about Lee Harvey and his pal George de Mohrenschildt and all the Oswaldian friends.” King’s trying, but the weird thing is that this book is absolute proof of how life just isn’t as interesting as what a good fiction writer can provide. The least-developed character is the one who Unca Steven couldn’t generate wholesale from his mind. The real stunners, the ones who you want to be around, are the ones he made up whole-cloth – even his villains are more villainous.
That’s the sign of a great writer, man. When you outdo real life.
(Also, this book is a fascinating parallel to The Dead Zone, another tale of a guy who has to assassinate someone to ward off a terrible future history, and I’m probably going to reread Dead Zone when it’s done to see how they match up.)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.