Horror is a monster. But I used to think of them as foreign things, beyond human understanding, coming to kill, consume, or destroy indiscriminately, overturning an at least tolerable, if not happy, way of life.
11/22/63 and Mr. King have taught me better than that.
Horror is a monster. Unfortunately, the best ones—or worst ones, depending on your point of view—are people. And not just people, but people we know—love even, which is where the most horrific part comes in to play.
Oswald is a minor part of 11/22/63, in fact, he’s a bit player, a backdrop. Without checking, I guess he probably appears on twenty pages or fewer of the 849 page novel. Jake Epping or George Zimmerman, depending on which side of the timeline your seat is, has Oswald firmly in mind when he crosses through fifty years to 1958 on a mission to save the 35th President of the United States. So how does King fill a nearly 1,000 page beast of a read when the hero’s only goal is to kill a character who’s barely even in it?
No, not the kind that come from space or travel through time (although time travel, obviously, is a huge plot device). They don’t even bother dragging themselves out of dark, cavernous basements or creak down long unending hallways. The monsters are right there in the open to be read in broad daylight. From the would-be family murdering Frank Dunning, the Cuban bookie Jake meets in Florida, or John Clayton, the monsters either don’t, or barely hide. Including the biggest monster of all; Epping himself.
Oh no, you won’t get it out of me how the man—and his predecessor, Al Templeton—is the worst of all these monsters, but I think they all have a single motivation: selfishness. Something has been taken from each of these men and they would have it or an item of equal value back. Money, reputation, respect, life. Yes, when you find out how exactly the rabbit hole works, you’ll understand more. You’ll understand why the Yellow Card Man is probably one of the saddest heroes in modern-day literature (maybe that’s an over-exaggeration; I won’t qualify it, though). You’ll understand why every paragraph you read detailing what Jake Epping does in the mid-twentieth century is wrong.
But 11/22/63 should remind a sane and reasonable person how selfish human beings naturally are. How we want what we want regardless of consequences, how so like infants we continue to be even into adulthood. And how it takes near supernatural forces sometimes to sway us from our lone paths. It is a lonely path for Epping. It takes five years and two minutes at the same time and he passes by paradoxes and steps over quandaries in single pursuit of a selfish goal that he is constantly nudged away from from the moment he steps out of 2011 and into 1958.
Oswald is only the monster you expect; he is not the only one you see. Killing him seems the noble, reasonable thing to do if anyone were given a time machine to go back and do it. But would you listen if the universe whispered ‘no’?