Do I really want to read a Stephen King novel? Especially when it's 849 pages long? I'm not a fan of the fantasy/horror genre, so in all honesty I had never read a King book. But years ago (Wikipedia reveals that it was in 1990) he wrote a wonderful essay in The New Yorker called “Heads Down” about his son's Little League baseball team. I thought it was one of the best pieces of baseball writing I'd read in a long time (and I do love baseball) and I vowed to try to read something else by him.
Twenty-two years intervened before I revisited that vow. And it took a book title that resonates strongly for anyone of a certain age to make me tackle his latest novel. The premise is a monumental 'what if'. What if you could go back in time and undo the assassination of JFK on 11/22/63?
That's the challenge that faces high school teacher Jake Epping when a dying diner owner in Lisbon Falls, Maine shows him a rabbit hole/portal in his storeroom that leads to the Lisbon Falls of September 9, 1958. The rules are simple, and laid out early in the story, so this is not a spoiler. First, no matter how much time you spend in the past, when you travel back to the diner of 2011 only two minutes will have elapsed. Second, if you travel back in time again, everything you did on your previous visit will be erased. In addition, Jake has to consider the butterfly effect – what are the ripple effects of any change he makes to history?
Fortunately for me, King spends not much time on the fantasy/supernatural portion of this dilemma, and far more time on its more human aspects. There are some sluggish passages while King navigates Jake from 1958 to 1963, as he simultaneously tracks Lee Harvey Oswald's movements and falls in love, but there's plenty of suspense as well. King creates a poignant love story, a valentine to the simpler 1950's of big cars, rock and roll music, and rotary phones, and a thoughtful examination of the power of friendship and the persistence of evil.