On Monday, March 25, Lee came walking up Neely Street carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper. Peering through a tiny crack in the curtains, I could see the words REGISTERED and INSURED stamped on it in big red letters. For the first time I thought he seemed furtive and nervous, actually looking around at his exterior surroundings instead of at the spooky furniture deep in his head. I knew what was in the package: a 6.5mm Carcano rifle—also known as a Mannlicher-Carcano—complete with scope, purchased from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. Five minutes after he climbed the outside stairs to the second floor, the gun Lee would use to change history was in a closet above my head. Marina took the famous pictures of him holding it just outside my living room window six days later, but I didn’t see it. That was a Sunday, and I was in Jodie. As the tenth grew closer, those weekends with Sadie had become the most important, the dearest,
things in my life.
I came awake with a jerk, hearing someone mutter “Still not too late” under his breath. I realized it was me and shut up.
Sadie murmured some thick protest and turned over in bed. The familiar squeak of the springs locked me in place and time: the Candlewood Bungalows, April 5, 1963. I fumbled my watch from the nightstand and peered at the luminous numbers. It was quarter past two in the morning, which meant it was actually the sixth of April. Still not too late.
Not too late for what? To back off, to let well enough alone? Or bad enough, come to that? The idea of backing off was attractive, God knew. If I went ahead and things went wrong, this could be my last night with Sadie. Ever. Even if you do have to kill him, you don’t have to do it right away.
True enough. Oswald was going to relocate to New Orleans for awhile after the attempt on the general’s life—another shitty apartment, one I’d already visited—but not for two weeks. That would give me plenty of time to stop his clock. But I sensed it would be a mistake to wait very long. I might find reasons to keep on waiting. The best one was beside me in this bed: long, lovely, and smoothly naked. Maybe she was just another trap laid by the obdurate past, but that didn’t matter, because I loved her. And I could envision a scenario—all too clearly—where I’d have to run after killing Oswald. Run where? Back to Maine, of course. Hoping I could stay ahead of the cops just long enough to get to the rabbit-hole and escape into a future where Sadie Dunhill would be . . . well . . . about eighty years old. If she were alive at all. Given her cigarette habit, that would be like rolling six the hard way.
I got up and went to the window. Only a few of the bungalows were occupied on this early-spring weekend. There was a mud- or manure-splattered pickup truck with a trailer full of what looked like farm implements behind it. An Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. A couple of station wagons. And a two-tone Plymouth Fury. The moon was sliding in and out of thin clouds and it wasn’t possible to make out the color of the car’s lower half by that stuttery light, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was, anyway.
I pulled on my pants, undershirt, and shoes. Then I slipped out of the cabin and walked across the courtyard. The chilly air bit at my bed-warm skin, but I barely felt it. Yes, the car was a Fury, and yes, it was white over red, but this one wasn’t from Maine or
Arkansas; the plate was Oklahoma, and the decal in the rear window read GO, SOONERS. I peeked in and saw a scatter of textbooks. Some student, maybe headed south to visit his folks on spring break. Or a couple of horny teachers taking advantage of the Candlewood’s liberal guest policy.
Just another not-quite-on-key chime as the past harmonized with itself. I touched the trunk, as I had back in Lisbon Falls, then returned to the bungalow. Sadie had pushed the sheet down to her waist, and when I came in, the draft of cool air woke her up. She sat, holding the sheet over her breasts, then let it drop when she saw it was me.
“Can’t sleep, honey?”
“I had a bad dream and went out for some air.”
“What was it?”
I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my loafers. “Can’t remember.”
“Try. My mother always used to say if you tell your dreams, they won’t come true.”
I got into bed with her wearing nothing but my undershirt. “My
mother used to say if you kiss your honey, they won’t come true.”
“Did she actually say that?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it sounds possible. Let’s try it.”
We tried it.
One thing led to another.
Afterward, she lit a cigarette. I lay watching the smoke drift up and turn blue in the occasional moonlight coming through the half-drawn curtains. I’d never leave the curtains that way at Neely Street,
I thought. At Neely Street, in my other life, I’m always alone but still careful to close them all the way. Except when I’m peeking, that is. Lurking.
Just then I didn’t like myself very much.
I sighed. “That’s not my name.”
I looked at her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying her cigarette guiltlessly, as people do in the Land of Ago. “I don’t have any inside information, if that’s what you’re thinking. But it stands to reason. The rest of your past is made up, after all. And I’m glad. I don’t like George all that much. It’s kind of . . . what’s that word you use sometimes? . . . kind of dorky.”
“How does Jake suit you?”
“As in Jacob?”
“I like it.” She turned to me. “In the Bible, Jacob wrestled an angel. And you’re wrestling, too. Aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am, but not with an angel.” Although Lee Oswald didn’t make much of a devil, either. I liked George de Mohren--schildt better for the devil role. In the Bible, Satan’s a tempter who makes the offer and then stands aside. I hoped de Mohrenschildt was like that.
Sadie snubbed her cigarette. Her voice was calm, but her eyes were dark. “Are you going to be hurt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going away? Because if you have to go away, I’m not sure I can stand it. I would have died before I said it when I was there, but Reno was a nightmare. Losing you for good . . .” She shook her head slowly. “No, I’m not sure I could stand that.”
“I want to marry you,” I said.
“My God,” she said softly. “Just when I’m ready to say it’ll never happen, Jake-alias-George says right now.”
“Not right now, but if the next week goes the way I hope it does . . . will you?”
“Of course. But I do
have to ask one teensy question.”
“Am I single? Legally single? Is that what you want to know?”
“I am,” I said.
She let out a comic sigh and grinned like a kid. Then she sobered. “Can I help you? Let me help you.”
The thought turned me cold, and she must have seen it. Her lower lip crept into her mouth. She bit down on it with her teeth. “That bad, then,” she said musingly.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m currently close to a big machine full of sharp teeth, and it’s running full speed. I won’t allow you next to me while I’m monkeying with it.”
“When is it?” she asked. “Your . . . I don’t know . . . your date with destiny?”
“Still to be determined.” I had a feeling that I’d said too much already, but since I’d come this far, I decided to go a little farther. “Something’s going to happen this Wednesday night. Something I have to witness. Then I’ll decide.”
“Is there no way I can help you?”
“I don’t think so, honey.”
“If it turns out I can—”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate that. And you really will marry me?”
“Now that I know your name is Jake? Of course.”
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Fine stories to take with us into the night. (Neil Gaiman on FULL DARK, NO STARS in the Guardian
America's greatest living novelist. (Lee Child)
King's gift of storytelling is unrivalled. His ferocious imagination is unlimited. (George Pelecanos)
'King's most purely entertaining novel in years . . . utterly compelling.' (John Connolly on UNDER THE DOME)
'Staggeringly addictive.' (USA Today
on UNDER THE DOME)
'Tight and energetic from start to finish.' (New York Times
on UNDER THE DOME)
'The pedal is indeed to the metal.' (Guardian
on UNDER THE DOME)
Delivers a lot of praise and enjoy. The story comes off the blocks with almost alarming speed ... he tells a story like a pro .... 11.22.63 kept me up all night. (Daily Telegraph)
Stephen King at his epic, pedal-to-metal best' (Alison Flood, Sunday Times, Culture)
not just an accomplished time-travel yarn but an action-heavy meditation on chance, choice and fate. (Independent Books of the Year)
The details of Fifties America, the cars, the clothes, the food, the televisions with wonky horizontal hold, are so vivid that you begin to wonder whether the author himself hasn't had access to a time machine.
...But as you worry at the paradoxes and the brilliantly explained pseudo science there is no denying that this monster yearn is blindingly impressive. Manly writers run out of steam as they get older. King, though, writes books that are ever longer and more demanding. I can't wait to see what he will tackle next.
Stephen King's new novel, 11.22.63, combines a variety of genres, being a JFK assassination, a story of time travel, a variation on the grail quest, a novel of voyeurism, a love story, a historical novel, a counter-factual historical novel and the chilling tale of a sinister animate universe, a form which can be traced back to the ghost stories of MR James. (London Revuew of Books)
The master of the pen has written yet another extraordinary novel. (The Independent)
Perhaps only seasoned storyteller Stephen King could accomplish changing the course of history in his vast time-travelling masterpiece whilst effortlessly weaving political and social details with abundant humour. King's intriguing new story structure will surely catapult the author to another best-seller. (The Australian Women's Weekly)
These early sections of the novel are almost irresistible entertaining, enlivened not just by King's supreme control of the form but by his sardonic wit and usual generosity of spirit and expansiveness. Yet as Jack/George moves closer to his goal, other, darker notes intrude, as time itself begins to resist his attempts to change its course, and as he begins to identify with his quarry.... Beneath the reassuring glow of King's portrait of an earlier, simpler time moves a darker and less comfortable vision, a glimpse of the terrifying machinery that moves below the surface of human history, and which stands as a stark, chilling rejoinder to the fantasies of escape embodied in so many time travel stories. (The Weekend Australia)
Mammoth but entertaining, this is part sci-fi, part suspense and part travelogue of a long-ago America. (Who Weekly)
Stephen King is a remarkable and wonderful storyteller who never loosens his grip on the reader throughout the 750-page book. (Women's Day)
The novel is big, ambitious and haunting. King has probably absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation as thoroughly and imaginatively as any other writer. (Mildura Midweek)
King weaves the social, political and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation into a devastating exercise in escalating suspense. (Daily Liberal)
A fascinating journey. (Armidale Express Extra)
A delightful blend of history and fantasy by a man who has always had a soft spot for an America where men wore fedoras, drove big Fords and could do the foxtrot. A thriller by a genius writer. (The Courier Mail)
People often complain there are no writers of the stature of Dickens anymore. I think that for pure energy and invention missed with compassion, King stands in that writer's direct line. Dickens' heir is alive and well and living in Maine. (Eureka Street)
This is Stephen King in top and chilling form. (Take 5)
You have to take a leap of faith with time-travel novels, but if there's one writer who can pull it off, it's Stephen King. ... Captivating, surprisingly pacy and free from sci-fi clich?, it's no wonder the film version is already being planned. (Shortlist)
The most remarkable story-teller in modern American literature. (Mark Lawson Guardian)
a powerful love story (Mirror)
One of the strengths of the book is King's at once nostalgic and honest view of the end of the Eisenhower era. King manages to avoid both sentimentalizing the past and treating it with massive condescension; his role as the poet of American brand-names serves him well here. (Independent)
King swiftly moves beyond vintage Americana to unfold a stunningly panoramic portrait of the era. His [King's] fascination with evil...arranges characters among clear mortal frontiers that fell meaningful rather than simplistic. King commands an inordinately fat space on the bookshelf with 11.22.63 but it's hard to begrudge when his vast imagination is working across such an epic canvas. (Seven, The Sunday Telegraph )
11.22.63 marks a definite maturing of literary command and ambition. The key to any novel set in an alternate reality is credible world building, the steady accumulation of detail - preferably lightly distributed - that brings the story alive. King succeeds in this, partly drawing from his own memories. (Adam LeBor, FT Weekend)
...This is the American of Stephen King's childhood and it's one that he re-creates in vivid and loving detail... This is a truly compulsive, addictive novel not just about time-travel or the Kennedy assassination but about recent American history and its might-have-beens, about love, and about how life 'turns on a dime'. It's a thunking 700-pager which left me only wanting more. The master storyteller in truly masterful form. (Daily Mail)
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