It’s 2011, and Jake Epping is a high school English teacher in a sleepy Maryland town when his friend Al, who runs an implausibly cheap diner on the edge of town, asks him for a big favour: go back in time and stop the Kennedy assassination. You see, Al’s diner has a somewhat unusual feature in its storeroom: a portal back to 1958. After a few furtive explorations, Jake agrees to go down the rabbit hole, find Lee Harvey Oswald, and stop him before he can do the thing that made him a staple of history.
A lot has been written about time travel, with varying degrees of depth and success. King doesn’t really dive into the mechanics, but because he’s King he manages to steer around them instead. That’s not a bad thing; if I wanted to read A Brief History of Time, I would read that (again). King’s solution to working around Chaos Theory is simple but effective: the past fights back, and so Jake frequently runs into obstacles – flat tires, broken cars, roadworks – that the timeline throws at him to get back in line. That’s the way King rolls; don’t overcomplicate things that can get in the way of a good story.
Jake is a likable protagonist; he’s kind, he’s a good teacher, he’s a smooth talker but he’s not glib. He also fell a little flat to me, because I’ve read about a hundred variations on this character. He’s enjoyable but not particularly original: he is what the story needs him to be. The same goes for Sadie, the woman he falls in love with. Her character seems to have been shaped by the plot, not the other way around. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it felt a little derivative at times.
She also keeps referring to sex as “poundcake”, which really grinds my gears, and Jake’s excursions into Derry (the town from It) seem a little self-indulgent.
It took me a long time to finish this book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I hit reading slumps sometimes and I read one or two other books while I finished this one. I think what threw me off is that much of the book isn’t about Jake trying to stop the Kennedy assassination, but about his time in the past and making a life for himself in a different timeline. Again, that’s not criticism per sé. It just wasn’t what I expected. The end of the novel is a real pageturner, but it took a while to get to that point. I mostly liked the ending, but again, some of it it is weirdly derivative.
I guess if you’ve written as many books as King has it’s hard to remain original.
This entire review makes me sound kind of lukewarm towards the book, but I really did enjoy it save for some minor snags. Reading about Oswald and the kind of man he was is fascinating, and Jake and Sadie’s relationship – barring their personal lingo – is sweet without being cloying. I might have gotten through it sooner if I had gone into it with different expectations, though.