“The story is everything that I imagined it could be, but then all of a sudden it isn’t.”
What follows will include very heavy spoilers for both 11/22/63 the novel, and the television miniseries.
For as long as I can remember I have been a Stephen King fan. Though he is the butt of many literary jokes, I was always drawn to his work. Maybe it is the subject matter, maybe it is the way that his writing seems to suck me into the pages of whichever work of his I decide to read; whatever it is, it is not really relevant is it?
I remember back when I was just a wee lad, trying to grow up a lot faster than time would allow me. That’s really when I started to get into the work of Stephen King, but again that’s irrelevant. I remember when I saw 11/22/63 sitting on a store shelf, and more specifically I remember seeing John F. Kennedy on the cover. I was also really interested in conspiracy theories, and the Kennedy assassination was the grand-daddy of them all. Anyway, I decided that this was the best of both worlds: an author that I like, writing about a topic that I like. It was the proverbial perfect storm in my mind. I would like to be able to say that I got home and read that book until there were no more pages to turn. I would like to tell you that, but I don’t want to lie to you. Hell, I don’t even know who “you” are, nor do you know me apart from these words that you are reading. Nevertheless the truth is that I read 11/22/63 for a few days. Every time I would sit down to read the chapters kept growing in size, and my bookmark never really seemed to make progress. It’s no surprise really, you could easily kill a man with even the paperback edition of 11/22/63. So I gave up and read the last few chapters, never admitting that fact to anyone. The book was ultimately lost on me.
About a year ago I heard that a miniseries was being made about 11/22/63 and my heart lit up. Those same thoughts of the author being someone who’s work I liked, and the topic being one that I was interested in sprang to mind. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember fine details of the book. I have nothing better to do with my life so I decided to re-read (or, read for the first time) 11/22/63 in preparation for the miniseries. I’m an inherently lazy person so this task was eventually shifted to listening to the 11/22/63 audio book, and then pushed back to only about a week ago. So I finally got around to reading (listening) to 11/22/63 and I found that I didn’t really miss much.
The story is everything that I imagined it could be, but then all of a sudden it isn’t. The story starts off with great accounts of a time traveller going back to 1958, first trying to alter a small event and then eventually moving onto preventing the Kennedy assassination. But then the main character, Jake Epping (or George Amberson depending on when you are speaking to him), goes to Jodie. This is due to the largest problem I have with 11/22/63: the timespan in which the story occurs. As made apparent by the title, Kennedy gets shot in 1963. Jake arrives in 1958. There is then a 5 year wait for Jake to finally prevent this tragic event. Like I said, I love Stephen King, but I think it was a terrible choice to make the time span so fucking huge. Jake has three tasks: save the Dunning family, save Caroline Pooland (spelling?), and save Kennedy. The problem is that the first two take place about 2 months after Jake emerges from the rabbit hole, and the third takes place 5 years later. There is literally nothing to do but sit and wait, and I as a reader (listener) had to do exactly the same.
When Jake gets to Jodie he meets Sadie. Immediately 11/22/63 is altered from an intriguing story about time travel to a love story that is barely above smut. I’m no prude, but having to listen to an older gentleman reenact sex scenes in my ear more times than I can count has made me a little unforgiving.
Sure there are moments that occur here and there (Sadie getting a visit from her ex, the extremely vivd “Jimla” nightmare that made me actually start to sweat), but ultimately the story turns into a small town love story, with a few “funny” mementoes thrown in (like the two talent shows). It just feels to me that the story was ultimately lost on King (and therefore on the reader as well) because of this big time gap with absolutely nothing to fill it. I understand that these parts of the story were to set up the ultimate sacrifice that Jake has to make, but did it have to be so long? And the fact that Sadie was a virgin seemed only to play into the fantasy that made me draw the comparison to smut earlier. Then these feelings that Jake has for Sadie cause him to play fast and loose with the information that he is from the future. Never before have I lost any respect I had for a character than when Jake spilled the beans so to Sadie. He was already like 3 or 4 years into his mission, what would happen if the information got into the wrong hands? Sadie sure as hell didn’t keep her mouth shut, so if Jake would have been “found out” then he would have literally wasted years of his life. This aggravated me to no end and it really was only there to show that Jake had feelings for Sadie (I guess?).
Then the story realizes that it has to get its ass in gear and what happens? Jake gets his comeuppance when the local bookie kicks the shit out of him. This was a great scene, but then the amnesia happened. I really like the idea of that plot device (a time traveller who is trapped not knowing what he has to change), but the placement made it feel ham-fisted into the story to add some final suspense. When that gets cleared up Jake once again throws any logic out of the window by allowing Sadie to accompany him to stop Oswald. Just like with what I mentioned before, this decision was the farthest thing from what Jake should have been doing. And then when he gets to the depository he frantically tells Bonnie that Oswald is going to shoot the president! Maybe that can all be attributed to brain damage, but Jake made a lot of stupid fucking mistakes directly leading up to his goal.
As for the ending of the book, I really enjoyed it. I liked the discussion with the Green Card Man (Zach), and I thought it was a very interesting plot device. I really liked the look at the post-Kennedy-as-president world. And I also really enjoyed the debate in the past, and the final meeting with Sadie. It all felt like a great ending to what could have been a great book (if not for all of the literal fucking around that happened).
Imagine, if you will, a paperback copy of Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Now in your mind’s eye picture that book being tossed into a blender, and then that blender being turned on. Now take that blender and dump half of its contents into the garbage, we won’t be needing it. Now find yourself a person who has recently suffered brain damage. Are you following me? Now dump the remaining half of the blender’s contents in front of them and ask them to not only put the story back in order, but also to fill in the blanks. Congratulations! You have just pictured what I can only assume was the writing process for the 11/22/63 miniseries.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I’m not sure exactly why I put that in quotations because I have absolutely no idea who coined the phrase. Regardless it is a phrase that I live by, and I assumed that other people did too. Now, you are a fan of a book and have decided that you want to help it make its transition onto the television screen. What do you do? Read the book would be my personal step one. Would I change anything in the book? Well I wouldn’t see the point in doing that. Every single bit of information that I need is already in front of me in glorious black and white. And besides, I am a fan of this book so why would I want to change it? If I thought that I could do it better, then why do I like this book so much? In another life, maybe I was tasked with a job. I have to take a book and make it into a television show. This is a big, important task, so I get right on it. What’s the first thing I do? Get a copy of the book. Do I change any parts of the book? I don’t see why I would do that. I was told to make this book into a television show, and I have a feeling that whoever tasked me with this would not be happy if I decided to write my own story with the same characters. So what exactly happened with 11/22/63?
I’m sure I could accumulate stacks of research and spend hours of my life interviewing everyone involved with production, but in the end I already know the answer that I would find. Somewhere along the way somebody fucked up. The show started and already I sensed something was wrong. This feeling only found true footing when it was revealed that, during a brief trip to the back room, Al decided to try and save JFK. No warning, no notice, he even had fucking customers in his restaurant. Have you ever just been at your job and thought “Man, I could really go for some saving the president right now”? Because apparently Al has. This feeling of dread grows when Jake enters the rabbit hole. In the book, the rabbit hole was behind the drying shed at the old textile mill, blocked by a sign that warned passers-by about a broken sewer pipe. This was (presumably) to keep people from accidentally wandering into the rabbit hole and into a different time. Where is the rabbit hole in the show? Well, it’s right there IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING COURTYARD. Jake emerges every time to a hoard of people watching him with anticipation, then those same people watch him disappear into the same air that he materialized from. Who the fuck thought that was okay? What, they didn’t have it in the budget to shoot Jake emerging next to a fucking green wall? I should have gave up there, but unfortunately I didn’t.
Jake goes back to Al’s house and finds that he has A ROOM FILLED WITH NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS AND STRINGS ATTACHING THEM! I mean seriously, this is like a joke right? Anyway Jake and Al get into a fight, but then Jake is all of a sudden okay with saving the president and he is off to the rabbit hole! This is about the first 10 minutes of the show by the way. So Jake goes back in time and luckily he knows where everything is, and exactly what to do. So he’s out of Lisbon Falls like a shot and onto Dallas. Why? Why? Why did I watch this? Why am I even writing this?
I could go through this miniseries beat by beat and explain to you why I hate very single piece of it, but (as much as I want to) I won’t do that because it would be a waste of everyone’s time. What I will do instead is compartmentalize my rage in more of a “broad strokes” kind of way. First of all, the characters. Now King’s novel wasn’t flawless, as I’ve already stated, but the characters weren’t the weak point. I thought that they were good representations of both the time-period and the location in which the story was set. I got a good sense of history with each character, and a bond that slowly grew between them. What the miniseries then decided to do was essentially ruin that. Jake was turned from a man who is torn between love and his duty, to a man who sees this “duty” as a vacation. He uses the fact that he is a time traveller as a punchline, rather than it being an obstacle. Instead of carefully choosing every word to not accidentally name-drop something that could change the future, this mother fucker goes into stores looking for Gatorade and pretending that he wrote a song with The Beatles. Honestly, I’m surprised someone who is apparently an idiot could even become a teacher in the first place. Sadie is changed from this very broken woman, into the regular old love interest. Her character has absolutely no depth because, even when she is mad at Jake for lying, she forgives him in what feels like 20 minutes. Deke Simmons is changed from a man who “ran the school” (with permission from Miss Mimi) and a father-figure to Jake, to a hard-ass who isn’t there for anyone. Miss Mimi was made to be a black woman. I know that sentence makes me sound racist, but here me out. The way that people of different races were treated back in the time of the book was terrible. King makes a point to mention this in his book several times, always making call-backs to the “bathroom” that Jake saw. In the show, Miss Mimi was the way of the show runners to bring these issue front-and-centre, but it was executed in a pretty awful way. First of all, it doesn’t add much to her character. There are a few times that the race issue comes up, but these are just ways to make Jake seem like some kind of “race superhero”. The change in Miss Mimi’s race also drastically altered her character. Instead of being the no-nonsense voice of reason in Jodie, she is turned into this timid, husk of a person who just quietly does what she is told. This also effects the relationship between her and Deke (which could have improved it honestly, if the show had spent more than 5 minutes on it). The Yellow Card Man was also changed from a “troubled keeper of the timelines”, to a guy who was just kind of sad. I didn’t understand why he was following Jake around so much, did he just need an audience for when he cried? I can look past all of those ruined (in my opinion) characters, but the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was motherfucking Bill Turcotte.
In the novel, Bill Turcotte (aka no-suspenders) is a well-meaning fellow, but one who almost fucks everything up. Bill shows up right before Jake is set to kill Frank Dunning (the first time), and he relays the message that if anyone should kill Frank Dunning, it should be him. He then tells a heart wrenching story about how Frank Dunning not only killed his sister, but his sister’s infant child as well. This gets resolved when Bill ultimately steps into save the Dunning family (well, minus Tugga) and gets rewarded with a blurb in the paper. Bill was set up as a tragic character, going through life knowing that the man that everyone in town loves killed his sister, but not being able to do anything about it. Bill Turcotte in the show is about 17 years old, and is the town idiot. He stumbles through life, following Jake around aimlessly, and Jake even tells him that he is a time traveller (what the fuck, right?). Bill accompanies Jake to Dallas, where the true story begins: The story of me wanting to rip me eyes out. Bill’s only real purpose in the show is to be the guy who fucks everything up. While Jake is getting his dick wet (or whatever the fuck he does) in Jodie, Bill is trying to hook up with Marina Oswald. That’s right, this guy is tasked with FUCKING THE WIFE OF AN ALREADY UNSTABLE MAN. Anyway, Bill eventually kills himself (about 6 episodes too late), and all was again well in the show. Seriously, if the person who decided to write Bill Turcotte into the show is reading this (and I doubt they are, because nobody will read this), FUCK YOU! You took a perfectly good character and you boiled him down to a fucking punchline.
One of the other issues that I had with the show as the absolutely scatterbrained writing decisions. The issue that I had with the book (which I have already mentioned) was that there was a whole lot of nothing going on in the middle of the story. To fix this, the show moved up the date in which the rabbit hole spits you out, which was smart. What it then did is what confuses me. You have a story which (in my opinion) has a solid beginning and end; so the smart thing to do would be cut out the middle (or at least parts of it). What instead happened is we got a cut-up version of the entire story this means that the beginning is rushed, which means that the rules of the world aren’t well established. The ending is rushed, which means that we don’t get to see the true ramifications of Jake’s actions. And we still have a shitty middle, except this time its worse because the story will jump around whenever the fuck it feels like leaving us with no sense of attachment between characters. I also took issue withe the past altering itself to prevent change. In the book, this manifested itself as things breaking, or uncontrollably shitting yourself, but in the show it was literally just turning people into other people to momentarily distract (or physically interfere with) the characters. This seemed a lot cheaper to me, and it makes a hell of a lot less sense (at least to me)
Wow, I didn’t expect to write this much but I guess rage fuels my creative juices. If you have read this far, I feel like you deserve a prize or something. Unfortunately there is no cheese at the end of this maze. If you skipped to the end to find out my thoughts on 11/22/63 without having to read the novel that I myself wrote, I don’t blame you in the slightest.
To sum my feelings up: 11/22/63 was an okay book. It had a good premise, but the middle was too long with not much happening. The 11/22/63 miniseries is an absolute dogshit, bastardization of an “adaptation”, but it did make me appreciate the book more.