Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The past harmonizes

I don't know much about Kennedy. I suppose that makes baby boomers feel about as distant from me as I feel from the kids born after 2001 - there's a gulf between the people who lived through major events and those who just heard the story later. For the people who lived it, it isn't just a story. It's your life.

That made reading 11/22/63 an interesting experience: King does a great job of helping you to live in those places that you haven't been. He colors the buildings and flavors the food and drowns you in a fog of foreign smoke until you start to accept the way that the characters are thinking and acting as something less alien than it was before you open the book.

I guess it's probably different, like everything is, when you've lived through it. But the Kennedy assassination brought forth a wealth of literature and national introspection, while academics are still saying that American literature hasn't recovered from 9/11. I don't know if I agree with that or not, but I suspect it may be at least partially true. We can write about old wounds, but we don't know how to write about pain we still feel. Not as a nation anyway. This is something that King alludes to in his afterword - he initially tried to write this book in the seventies but the wound was still to raw.

When I first read 11/22/63 I stayed up all night reading it (in spite of having to go to work the next day), something that I hadn't done in a long time. This time I didn't quite stay up all night (I think it's my third reading) but I stayed up late and let it eat up my spare hours for a couple of days.

King's 1958 is intoxicating and grotesque. He props up the mythical structure of the time, the nifty fifties that so many people seem to think they'd want to live in, and rips it down with the realities of the time - the racism, the misogyny, the resignation to living under an atomic shadow. It's a place you'd want to visit, not one where anybody sane would want to live.

11/22/63 is also the novel that houses one of my favorite King characters, Sadie Dunhill, who is wonderful and strong and scared all at the same time. Sadie is well worth reading, as is Jake/George, and really, King's 1958 shouldn't be missed.

     - Alli

King, Stephen. 11/22/63. Scribner. New York: New York. 2011.

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