Jake Epping is a 35-year-old teacher with no commitments when a dying friend asks him to take over his life’s mission for him. His friend, Al, found a portal through which he could travel back and forth to the past – always to September 9, 1958. He wants Jake to go back and prevent Kennedy’s assassination, and Jake agrees. Al warns Jake that the past resists change, and that barriers will be repeatedly placed in his path. But even Al can’t anticipate the biggest complication of all: Jake falls in love.
Discussion: I fought reading this book, and wasn’t really sucked in until halfway through, which in the case of the prolix Stephen King, means around page 400! For the last 400 and some pages though, I couldn’t put it down.
Part of the problem for me with this book has to do with my personal history; I spent a lot of time already reading everything there was to read on Kennedy and the assassination, including the 1120-page A Thousand Days by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and the almost-800-page The Death of A President by William Manchester. So for me, all the information about Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina Oswald was not as interesting as it might have been had I known nothing about it.
And yet, as focused as the book was on the Kennedy assassination, it seems to me that King’s real passion emerges when he writes about the small everyday activities that never make the history books: the pleasure of an ice cold root beer on a hot day; the rewards of helping a kid discover what is best about himself; the kindness of friends; the sweet awkwardness of a first date; the deep satisfaction of having someone to love and with whom to share your joy and pain; and the exhilaration of dancing in spite of everything. All these things, he seems to be saying, can help compensate for the more appalling and unfair aspects of “a universe of horror and loss.” But they can’t entirely erase tragedy…. Those who are lucky enough to have “moments of glad grace” should cherish those memories; for they can be ephemeral, no matter how many chances you get to relive time.
Evaluation: I don’t feel right in saying I would have wanted this book edited downward in size, because verbose expositions are part of what makes this author distinctive. With King, you can also expect a lot of side stories that aren’t essential to the main plot. And get ready to spend a lot of time with the characters – enough to miss them dearly when you are done reading. More importantly, be prepared to be very, very sad indeed at the haunting, bittersweet ending.
Published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2011