Go ahead, book snobs. Proclaim haughtily that Stephen King is not Literature. I shall retort with a Pratchett quote,
"Susan hated Literature. She'd much prefer to read a good book."
And nobody argues with Sir Terry.(Since 'a picture is worth a thousand words', the above is a three-thousand-words summary of this book. Impressive, no? And also - dancing is life.)
As you probably guessed from the not-too-spoiler-sensitive title
is a book about time travel. My love for it is an exception rather than a rule - you see, I am not usually a fan of the Grandfather paradox.
Speaking of which:
“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?"
He stared at me, baffled. "Why the fuck would you do that?”
As the title proceeds to shamelessly tells us, the book deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy (and if the title fails to convey the message, then hopefully you - like yours truly - have Google-pedia'd
it. Hey, don't judge, I was born in Eastern Europe). Anyway, it's another of Stephen King's 'what if?' situations. What if you could go through a 'rabbit-hole' to the past? Would you try to change history for the better, would you try to right the wrongs? Well, who wouldn't???
And so Jake Epping, an English teacher, sets out to spend half a decade in the past to prevent the assassination of JFK (and to figure out whether Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed the lone gunman that day, despite all the conspiracy theories).
"As I flipped to the back, I kept seeing that double take. And the grin. A sense of humor; a sense of the absurd. The man in the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository had neither. Oswald had proved it time and again, and such a man had no business changing history."
What if their lives had never intersected?**
“Even people capable of living in the past don't really know what the future holds.”
The question is - what would have happened had JFK survived the assassination that day in Dallas? Would we still have Vietnam War, race riots, and Martin Luther King's death? Could the lives of many innocent people be spared? Could JFK lead the country into a better future? Jake believes so.
But what if the past resists the change? What is the price of changing the past?
"The past is obdurate for the same reason a turtle’s shell is obdurate: because the living flesh inside is tender and defenseless."
This book again dispels the long-believed but mistaken axiom that Stephen King is a "horror writer" - of a spook and startle variety.
No, in the traditional sense he is not. He knows that the true monsters are those that live inside every one of us (and, ahem
, occasionally in Derry, Maine). He has created his own brand of psychological suspense - with the brilliant and scary insight into the minds of average everyday people
(who all have some darkness inside them and a skeleton or two in the closet - sometimes quite literally
) superimposed onto the masterful description of small towns themselves
(eerily resembling sentient living creatures, determined to hold on to their dark secrets
And we get plenty of these in this book, as Jake's quest to prevent that fateful shot in November in Dallas takes him along the way to the small towns of Derry, Maine and Jodie, Texas.
* I have an irrational fear of living in a small town, thanks to Stephen King. What if it turns out to be another Derry or Castle Rock?! *shudder*
(By the way, this trip to the past gives plenty of deeeeee-licious 'Easter Eggs' to King's Constant Readers. We see little echoes from Pennywise the Clown era in Derry, meet our favorite 1958 Plymouth Fury (
Hellllloooo there, Christine!
), and even get a nod to A Wizard and Glass
with Takuro Spirit).
“On that gray street, with the smell of industrial smokes in the air and the afternoon bleeding away to evening, downtown Derry looked only marginally more charming than a dead hooker in a church pew.”
Derry of 1958 (right after the terrifying events of IT
) is particularly repulsive and sinister. It's a small wonder Jake is able to continue his quest after starting in such an ominous place. But even there King manages to include some unexpected beauty
- just remember Richie and Bevvy dancing.
And the reverse applies to the idyllic town of Jodie in which Jake is finally able to feel that he actually LIVES in the past. Deep down under the beauty and quaintness lies the ugly little reality. And the same remains true for the Land of Ago
, the glorious past of absent airport security, no cholesterol warnings, and everyone happily puffing their way to lung cancers. The 1950s-60s are described with sweetness and nostalgia, but
King never hesitates to bluntly remind the reader that the past has teeth and it's not afraid to bite.
King is an excellent writer and an amazing storyteller. His writing is effortless and natural, the characterization is apt and memorable, and the dialogue superb and real-sounding.
I truly felt for Jake during each step of his journey. I loved how Oswald was described as not a villain or a nutcase but a flawed broken little man who stumbled into the middle of events that changed history. The other characters - Sadie, Deke, Ellie, Frank Dunning - were so well-written that I could feel them come to life (which actually can be a scary statement when the world of sai King is concerned). The story, despite its sizable length, was flowing along and never lost my attention. And his slow build-up of the sense of suspense and doom - think
The Yellow Card Man
and the 'harmonizing past'
- was just enough to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the book.
-------------------------------------------------Pardon me for using this moth-eaten cliche, but Stephen King is like good wine
- his writing gets better and better as he ages. Some may consider The Stand
his masterpiece (to his dismay - who wants to think he's already reached the peak of his writing career three decades ago???), but I think this
book may be it.
"Is there any phrase more ominous than you need to see exactly what you’ve done? I couldn’t think of one offhand."
without hesitation for this excellent impossible-to-put-down book. Sai King, I will continue to be your Constant Reader for hopefully many more years to come, Capital-L Literature or not.
"If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples."