It’s been a long time since I read a Stephen King novel. I tried Lisey’s Story a few years back and just couldn’t get into it. Before that I can’t exactly remember what I last read–it might have been as far back as Four Past Midnight. I was a huge fan in the eighties, probably culminating in the It, Christine, and Misery phase of his career.
But his recent novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination intrigued me, so I picked up the book and read it. I loved it. Everything you love about Stephen King is there–pop culture references, a keen sense of place and time, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your chair and awake until the wee hours of the morning because you can’t put the book down.
The premise is simple–schoolteacher Jake Epping is given an opportunity to travel back in time to 1958 with the intention of thwarting Lee Harvey Oswald’s killing of President Kennedy. But, because this is an 800-page Stephen King novel, Jake must be tested first by going back in time and changing a small event first, which takes up the first two hundred or so pages in the book. It’s a great story, but it makes you salivate for the main item, getting into the Kennedy/Oswald story.
When King finally gets there it’s worth the wait. Under his alias, George Amberson, Jake returns to Texas (he must return to 1958, it’s part of the peculiar way Stephen King envisions time travel) and live a normal life as he waits for the fatal day to approach. Naturally, many bad things happen to him, and good ones, too–a job, friends, and a new woman. Everything gets complicated as Jake relocates to Dallas/Fort Worth to spy on Oswald using cutting-edge (for the 1960s) technology to find out whether Oswald acted alone or not (I won’t tell you). As the date with destiny approaches, King ramps up the suspense with twists and turns to Jake’s/George’s circumstances that kept me interested even as I raced forward to see what would happen at the Texas School Book Depository.
The book has a great conclusion with more unexpected and even emotional ripples that I wasn’t expecting from a page-turner, justifying the enhanced reputation King has enjoyed over the last few years.
In an afterword, King praises what he calls “the great time-travel story,” Time and Again, by Jack Finney. That novel has been among my very favorites since I discovered it in the eighties, and King’s book could hold pride of place next to it. In fact, I might run over to the bookstore right now and get a copy of Time and Again to reread. Zach won’t mind if I burn a little midnight oil…