What if you had the ability to change the past? What if you could travel back in time and stop a murder? Better yet, what if you could go back and stop all wars, murders, and disasters? What would you do with that kind of power? What should you do?
This is the question Jake Epping is faced with. It all starts with a casual call from Al, the owner of the local diner, who tells Jake something impossible: he has a way to travel back in time. Jake doesn’t believe at first, but when he actually travels back to 1958 and experiences the sounds, tastes, and smells, how can he deny it? Yet, Al has not shown this to Jake for sightseeing. Al has a mission: to stop the Kennedy assassination. Al would do it himself, but his lung cancer has progressed to the point that he won’t last the wait between ’58 and ’63. Thus, Jake is faced with a choice: go back and stop the assassination (and probably the Vietnam War by doing so) or stay in his quiet, New England life and leave the dead in their graves. With only a slight hesitation, Jake travels back in time.
However, Jake doesn’t want to just jump in head first. He needs to run some tests first, because though Al may have changed minor things, nothing he has done has actually saved a life. Jake’s test, stopping a murder, goes fairly well, other than the fact that he nearly dies several times. Through all that, though, he learns that the past is changeable, but the past does not want to be changed. Nature and humanity turned against him to keep the timeline stable. Thus, as he continues on this mission, he must be exceptionally careful. Anyone or anything might turn against him, fueled by the stubbornness of time itself. As the years drag by (it’s a long time between ’58 and ’63), Jake finds himself settling down. He has a stable job in Texas (as a schoolteacher), he meets a nice woman (Sadie, another schoolteacher), and he is making a difference among the students. He likes his (fake) life. Yet, as ’63 draws ever closer, Jake continues to spy on Lee Harvey Oswald, despite all that it might mean to his life in the 60s. But time does not want to be changed. Time becomes ever more resistant and dangerous the closer Jake gets to 11/22/63.
This is my first real Stephen King book (I’ve read On Writing but I don’t consider that a story) and I’ve discovered that the hype is real. King is a master storyteller. He jumps headfirst into the story, and I was dragged along for the ride. This story is told from Jake Epping’s perspective (first person, past tense) and King does a good job of fleshing out Jake’s character. It is a bit obvious that Jake is, in some ways, a stand-in for King himself, but that isn’t really a criticism so much as an observation. There are a few moments that felt like Jake shifted into preacher mode so King could say a few things, but others I have spoken to didn’t mind or notice that as much (so take this as you will). Most of the time, though, I was right with him: tense at the action bits and choked up at the emotional bits. There is a reason King is well-loved.
Unfortunately, though I liked the book, I did have some quibbles. I felt there was an inconsistency with Jake’s logic. He doesn’t want to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from beating his wife, because it might mess up the timeline. Yet, Jake has no problem teaching school or dating Sadie because… they aren’t directly connected? Jake tries to make a case for the difference (through the lack of direct contamination), but as he becomes more involved in his fake life, the explanation weakens until it basically falls apart entirely. Secondly, Sadie’s introduction is a bit cliché: she’s the gorgeous, ditzy girl who just happens to fall in love with Jake. Of course, her character is better fleshed out over time, but her introduction is sloppy. The time travel itself is befuddling, though that is partially due to the complexity in time travel rather than any of King’s faults (though he doesn’t help much with comprehension compared to other time travel books). Ultimately, my biggest beef with the book is that it is just too long. King could have told the story he wanted to tell in around 600 pages, but he takes over 800 to do so. I would have liked the book a bit more if there had been somewhat less of it.
In the end, I did like the book. The story captured my imagination with its ideas, and my emotions with its characters. Unfortunately, the book outstayed its welcome. For those who like time travel and King, I definitely recommend it. For those who are only interested, maybe check it out, but the miniseries might be just as worth your while (and is probably less of a time commitment).
Published on 1 June, 2016. Last updated on