Stephen King


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 27, 2012

his book is a time travel story. The hero of the novel, Jake Epping, is a high school English teacher, an ordinary citizen leading a routine life. One day, Jake's friend Al Templeton shows up looking incredibly weak and sick, as if he had aged ten years since Jake had last seen him. But Jake had just seen Al the day before. No one could age ten years in just one day, right? It turns out that Al is dying and he has a big secret to share with Jake - Al knows of a portal into the past. Step through the portal, and you will find yourself in 1958. Al has gone back in time and proven that the past can be changed. Once Al was convinced that the past could be altered, Al tried to live in the past until 1963, and then prevent the Kennedy assassination. Unfortunately, Al proved to be too sick to make it to 1963, so his dying wish is to enlist Jake in the scheme. Will Jake please spend 5 years living in the past to thwart Lee Harvey Oswald?

Naturally, it takes a bit of convincing before Jake believes that time travel is possible. Jake walks through the portal and enters into the past; soon he finds Al has told him the truth. Jake decides to prove to himself that the past can be changed - it turns out that there was a terrible killing in town in 1958, when an angry husband murdered his wife and three of his four children. Jake decides to stop this act of violence. In my opinion, this was the best part of the book - because the Dunning family is completely unknown to the reader, the days leading up to the attack and Jake's attempts to stop it are the most suspenseful part of the book. No one knows what to expect or how things will turn out.

Much of this novel describes Jake's time in Texas between 1958 and 1963, waiting for Lee Harvey Oswald to show up. Jake takes a job as an English teacher and falls in love with another teacher, Sadie Dunhill. There is a lot of description of the Jake/Sadie romance, it makes up a bigger part of the story than Oswald/Kennedy. Jake doesn't immediately kill Oswald when he first appears on the scene because Jake wants to be sure Oswald was indeed acting alone. What good would it do for Jake to kill Oswald, only to have Kennedy die anyway due to a sniper on the grassy knoll? So Jake spies on Oswald, which is rather easy to do because he knows exactly where Oswald will be on any given day. However, in my opinion, even if there WAS another gunman, just killing Oswald would already be enough to change history. It seemed to me that King was stalling for time because he wanted to tell the story of the Jake/Sadie romance. I am not a reader of novels in the romance genre, but because King is such an accomplished author, the pages turn quickly and the characters are pretty well developed. At one point, Jake makes a bet on a prize fight, and even though he already knows the exact outcome, King still manages to make it an exciting read.

One thing that puzzled me is why Jake didn't do a simple checkup on stocks from 1958 to 1963. I assume it wouldn't be too hard to find out which stocks rose quickly or plunged sharply during those five years. Jake could safely and anonymously have made a lot of money buying and selling stocks rather relying on reckless dealings with illegal bookies. Or why not go to Las Vegas where gambling is legal? Make a few huge bets and then get out of town.

I also feel that Jake would have found that Texas in the early 1960's would have held a lot more conservative attitudes toward premartial sex. Stephen King does portray a some of the people with those views, but I think that the "no sex before marriage" tenet would have been an almost universal opinion of the people back then. The 1950's would have been a lot more frustrating for Jake.

Why can't the mysterious people who try to prevent time travelers from altering the past be more competent or coherent? King just threw them in to explain his ending, but I thought it was the weakest part of the book. Overall, it is an entertaining read - I finished the whole 850 pages during one week (I spent a lot of time in airports that week). King usually writes a good novel, and this one is worth picking up.