11/22/63 is the first Stephen King novel I ever read – I was about 24 years old at this point. Once I’d completed 11/22/63, I felt a niggling emptiness that just wouldn’t go away, so I decided to take a trip to my local bookstore and pick up more of King’s work. Since then, my fascination with the author has only become greater.
Now I cannot get enough of King. I’ve still got a long way to go before I’ve read all of his most prominent novels, but I’ve dabbled in everything from his short stories (The Langoliers) to his hefty books, such as Christine and Dreamcatcher.
While reading 11/22/63, I wasn’t aware of Derry’s sinister backstory, however, during Jake’s visit to the town, there are little whispers here and there concerning a nameless child killer.
Jake visits Derry approximately 2 months after ‘It’ is “defeated” by the losers so the clown-like entity is never introduced in 11/22/63 and yet its absence didn’t hinder my understanding of the unkept Maine town. The atmosphere in Derry is enough to get a good whiff of the evil that occurs there, even after the removal of Pennywise.
When Jake arrives in Derry to prevent the murder of the Dunning family, King makes you hate the unwelcoming town as much as his protagonist does. Friendly faces appear here and there, as they do in every town, but Derry is overridden with begrudging ones that smother the landscape with a somber hue.
The tragedies involving children don’t help either, but Jake doesn’t blame his unease on this, but rather on the town’s energy which he describes as suffocating and withdrawn. Jake observes minor things at first like the pleasant-enough Derry librarian not returning his smile. But later, as he gets familiar with the town, he witnesses a man beating a bag with a stick from which the squeals of an animal can be heard – he’s certain it’s a dog. And even the buildings have mean faces.
Prior to meeting Bev and Richie and just after arriving in Derry, Jake encounters one other friendly face, the hotel bartender’s. Like Jake, the barman is an outsider and unlike the town-born residents, isn’t opposed to talking about the wickedness that pervades Derry. During their brief interaction, he informs Jake of the recent child killings and disappearances at the hands of a mysterious murderer, who many believe was a local in a clown suit. He even mentions Patrick Hockstetter’s body being discovered in the Barrens, the death of whom takes place in IT.
The following day, after becoming distracted by the sound of Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ coming from the street side of a fence bordering the Barrens, Jake spots two ‘tweenagers’, Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, as they practice the fine art of lindy-hopping. He is drawn in by their genuine merriness, an unusual emotion in such a place, and decides to ask them about the Dunnings.
Despite Jake being a stranger, the kids speak to him with little caution. Beverly makes room for him on the picnic table and Richie is grateful for a new audience member, even if it is an unknown. Their unguardedness is surprising to Jake. Derry folk tended to stay behind the ‘veil’ (so he calls it), especially when caught off guard, but the children are willing to open up to him in the same way that the bartender had.
As their conversation progresses, it becomes clear that the kids know Jake is not dangerous and that Jake knows they won’t blab to any adults about his unusual questions. As he later states, ‘Richie and Bev had been the right ones.’
There are many ways in which the three characters are connected. For one, they share the same distrust for the grown-ups in Derry. As an outsider, Jake is mindful of the locals’ callous aloofness. As insiders, the two losers find his comment regarding the adults’ ‘grumpy’ nature much too kind, with Richie quickly dismissing Jake’s implication that it has something to do with the recent tragedies – ‘They weren’t all that worried when the murders were going on.’
Like Jake, neither teen is fully susceptible to the joyless ways of the town because they seem to find bits of hope where they can, in each other or in an out-of-towner’s kind demeanor. What’s more, ‘Bevvie-Bevvie’ and ‘Richie-Richie’ (as they humorously introduce themselves as) are well-acquainted with misfits, themselves included, which is why they are so amicable toward him.
There is instant comradery between all three and their child-like obliviousness to social-barriers only succeeds in breaking them down even more. Additionally, their collective apprehension gives them the ability to discuss the strange occurrences with a superior understanding, even if the town prefers to look the other way.
During their brief dialogue, a lot is said with few words, which supports Jake’s on-going notion that destiny isn’t random. For instance, when discussing Frank Dunning, Beverly says, ‘He’s a nice man.‘ – ‘Always joking around and stuff.’ to which Jake replies, ‘Clowns joke around a lot too.’ – ‘That doesn’t make them nice.’ Of course, Jake was told about the clown-suit by the bartender, but he also senses that the youngsters are more knowledgeable on the tragic summer events than they are letting on and that their roles are much greater than those of two goofy teenagers rehearsing for a talent contest.
The lindy-hop is another striking link because Jake was once a competitive swing dancer alongside his dance partner and ex-wife, Christy. Jake doesn’t see this as a coincidence but as a force of fate. Before going on his way, he tells the pair to slow down the record so that they can follow the steps at a relaxed pace. He continues to help them until they get the hang of it, and although not perfect, to Jake they seem ‘beautiful’.
Bevvie and Richie are content as they practice the lindy-hop, at home even. Because of this, Jake has a moment of calm and reflection – their togetherness puts him at ease. As he walks away from the two close friends, he turns back to see them immersed in their dance.
And it doesn’t end there, because, after several weeks in Derry, Jake has his own taste of the evil entity. At the remains of the Kitchener Ironworks, he spots a pile of gnawed kitten bones inside a shattered chimney and hears a surreal whisper in his head inviting him to enter the darkness. This and Beverly’s doubtful look, when she tells Jake that the evil (whatever that may be) has passed, suggest that ‘It’ is merely sleeping.
Their meeting does eventually become obsolete when Jake removes his mark on the past at the end of the novel. But one can only wonder whether or not this chance meeting indirectly impacts Bev and Richie’s lives, especially because Sadie (as an older lady) appears to recognize Jake during their dance together, even though they are technically meeting for the first time.
As previously mentioned, this was the first King novel I’d ever read but in no way did this swing-dancing encounter between Jake and the two losers feel like a random scene chucked in for the sake of interconnecting the ‘Stephen King-dom’. With this seemingly out of place moment, King reveals the soft yet glowing light that can exist in Derry because, for some of its dwellers, it’s considered to be home – so long as they have someone to dance the lindy-hop with.
As is quoted in the book, “Home is where you dance with others, and dancing is life.”
If you like this, then please take a look at some of my other IT related posts: IT: The Bloody Toilet Scene and why Beverly Marsh is Not a Damsel in Distress, What the F**K Happened to Mike Hanlon and My Humble Review of the New IT Movie.