Wow. What can I say? This book was a thrill, a wild joyride, emotional and tender, thoughtful, had me on the edge of my seat. I guess I’ve not bothered to seek out Stephen King (aside from one book I read for the horror section of my genre fiction class in grad school, From a Buick 8, and a short audiobook for a car trip, Stationary Bike) because I don’t have much use for horror; but of course he does more than horror, doesn’t he. There are reasons why he’s a mega-bestseller, and this book illustrates several of those reasons very well.
I’ll back up a bit and give you the premise. Jake Epping is an English teacher in small-town Maine in 2011. His alcoholic wife has just divorced him in favor of a man she met at AA meetings when Al, of the local Al’s Diner, calls him up. Al has aged 10 years overnight and is clearly dying, like right now, but how can this be when Jake just saw him yesterday looking healthy if chubby? We’re thrown into the weirdness immediately as Al sends Jake through his diner’s pantry, and through the rabbit hole, into 1958. This strange loophole through time always takes a visitor back to the same moment in 1958, and no matter how long one stays, he’s always gone just 2 minutes in 2011. Al has returned from 1962 with terminal cancer. He tried to make it to 1963 to stop the Kennedy assassination, thinking to prevent as well the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the tragedy of the Vietnam War, and – why not? – all the bad since then, too. But now Al is out of the game, and with very little instruction, Jake is in it.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that Jake takes on the challenge, because I don’t feel it’s much of a spoiler. (This book runs over 800 pages; something had to happen.) But I won’t tell you much more. This is a suspenseful ride through time and history with the most serious of potential consequences. It’s awesome. Jake is an awfully likeable character, very human, fairly well developed, with good intentions but human weaknesses as well. There is definitely some humor in his preordained knowledge of the past; and before you go thinking he can see everything’s future as he travels through 1958, and onward, across the United States, remember (as Jake will remind us) that he’s an English teacher, not a history teacher. In particular, the regular people he meets are beyond his future-sight, as he didn’t study up on them beforehand. And it’s the little people, the regular folks he comes to know in the Land of Ago, that will turn out to be important to Jake. How could it not be so? He’s just a regular folk himself.
As my mother (who read this book first and prompted me to do so; thanks Mom) pointed out, King is not terribly poetic or lyrical in his writing style. (For the exception that proves the rule, see my recent Teaser Tuesday.) But not all books have to be poetic, and this one loses nothing for it’s more straightforward style. What King does right is build characters, make us care, paint the world of the late 50’s and early 60’s so completely that we taste and smell it. The storyline is fabulous, and this book is a page-turner; if only I had started it sooner during my week off work I might have tried to do it in one or two sittings!! As it was I stayed up past my bedtime on a work night to finish it.
The history and culture of the past is great fun; the characters are engaging; the action is suspenseful. This book is fun and exhilarating and I highly recommend it! Go ahead and add it to my Best of 2011 list. (See, I knew I was jumping the gun…)