Author: Stephen King
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Source: personal copy
Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.
President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away . . . but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke. . . . Finding himself in warmhearted Jolie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten . . . and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
In Stephen King’s “most ambitious and accomplished” (NPR) novel, time travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.
Stephen King’s books were among the very first “adult” books I read (I devoured The Stand when I was in 7th grade), but as an adult I’m wishy-washy about him. Some of his books appeal to me, and others (like Lisey’s Story) don’t appeal to me at all. In fact, this will be only the second fiction book of his that I’ve reviewed on this blog in the last 7 years. I’ve always been more a fan of his straightforward horror stories, so I was pleasantly surprised by this, which I would consider part historical fiction and part science fiction.
Jake Epping is just a run-of-the-mill English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine when the local diner owner, Al, comes to him and tells Jake he wants to show him something. That “something” turns out to be some sort of hole in time and space, which transports Jake (or Al, or anyone) from present-day Lisbon Falls to the Lisbon Falls of 1958. Unknown to anyone, Al has spent the last 4 years in the past, trying to right one of the biggest wrongs in American history – the assassination of JFK. But cancer is claiming him, and his dying wish is that Jake carries on his work.
If there’s one thing that Jake learns on his mission, it’s that history doesn’t want to change, and Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Jake has 5 years to live before he can try to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, and those years give us the most interesting parts of the book. Jake not only struggles with the forces of the universe, but also with himself. With the power to change history, how far should he go? Who is worthy of his benefaction? How could anyone not be worthy? And if he doesn’t act, can he continue to live with his choices? If he screws up, does he have time to try it again?
I really enjoyed this book. King has a tendency to be long-winded, but I never felt bogged down in the story. Things move right along, so much so that from time to time, you forget that Jake has a larger mission to complete. And the ending is not what you would expect. Not completely happy, but not completely sad either.
There are a lot of easter eggs in the book for devoted King readers. And even a personal easter egg for me. On page 10 (or thereabouts) of the paperback:
“He also took a picture of us, which he later hung on what he called the Town Wall of Celebrity. Other ‘celebrities’ represented included the late Albert Dunton, founder of Dunton Jewelry; Earl Higgins, a former LHS principal; John Crafts, founder of John Crafts Auto Sales; and, of course, Father Bandy of St. Cyril’s.”
Albert Dunton was my great-uncle! I think it’s that level of attention to detail that really illustrates King’s love for Maine. I also enjoyed the brief focus on Moxie, that strange little soda that I still hold fondly in my heart. I actually found it in a local store here in Virginia, and every once in a while I have to go get one as a treat. My husband thinks it smells like motor oil.
This book made me excited about Stephen King again. I plan to tackle Under the Dome in the not-so-distant future, and I’m also looking forward to Joyland, set to come out next summer. If you’ve ever been scared of Stephen King, for whatever reason, this is a great novel to start with.
- “Despite its heft, the novel is intriguing enough to keep even the most distracted reader turning the pages.” — Caribousmom
- “I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the 1950s feel. It was clear that King had spend time researching the details to make this a convincing story.” — Leeswammes’ Blog
- “The story raises some philosophical questions which would make for a great book club discussion…” — at home with books