“Life turns on a dime. Sometimes towards us, but more often it spins away, flirting and flashing as it goes: so long, honey, it was good while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
It’s been said before, and it’ll no doubt be said again – but just because Stephen King has dedicated so much of his career to writing books about the macabre he’s considered as a lesser writer by many critics. Which is a real shame because, as King once said when asked why he writes that genre, – “you assume I have a choice…”
But then, suddenly, from nowhere a book like this lands. A book that King has wanted to write since 1972 but was initially put off by the amount of research he’d have to put into it (he was still full-time as a teacher back then).
“I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”
I could tell you the plot in a nutshell – a lonely high school teacher discovers a doorway into the year 1958 and decides to stop JFK’s assassination in 1963. But that would be too easy and, for lack of a better term, way too simple. This is far more than a time travel novel. At it’s heart it’s an absorbing love story – a love story so strong that everything else (such as stopping that fateful shooting) almost filters into the background.
When this was released the critics initially gave it some stick for hopping genres – but, as long as you can make it work, why not slip between thriller, romance and historical period piece? King does make it work. I’m sure of that. I enjoyed this book immensely, and towards the end I woke up two hours earlier than usual to read just a few more chapters. It has that formula you just can’t bottle, the formula only bestsellers have…that mysterious elixir that sucks you into the story and makes one page turn after the other, as if by magic.
“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”
The only negatives were the same problem that I have with a lot of King’s work…you probably know where I’m going with this…but, it was just that bit too over descriptive. But then again, maybe that’s actually a positive – perhaps it brings you further into the story? I also feel that this perhaps went on for a hundred pages longer than it should have, this might have put some readers off.
I also have to comment on the main character, Jake Epping, I couldn’t help but think that he was pretty much 30 year old Stephen King himself. With just a few things switched around. 6’4, not thin but not fat, English teacher, wants to write books – I mean, I know that sums up a lot of King’s characters in general, but there was something extra about Jake. Something so genuine, that I felt as if King was simply describing what he’d done if he were in that situation and how he’d look to stop the notorious Lee Harvey Oswald – who is one of the other main characters here, but always watched at a distance – almost like an evil zoo animal.
“On the subject of love at first sight, I’m with the Beatles: I believe that it happens all the time.”
The scene where Jake races against time to rescue his girlfriend from danger is so well-written that I felt hairs stand up on my arms and I’ll be damned if some of the climatic pages toward the end didn’t nearly draw a tear from my usually dry eyes.
The research here is simply incredible too. He does mention it in the afterword, but wow! The hours (days) King must have put in…I can only imagine. I actually feel like I’ve been to early 1960s Dallas…and I’ve never even set foot in Texas!
“I can love you if you’re a man, and I can love you if you’re a hero- I guess, although for some reason that seems a lot harder- but I don’t think I can love a vigilante.”
The way that time is explained here is also something else, it almost becomes a character – often the villain of the piece. You’d have to read this to fully understand, which I hope you do. But time doesn’t like being changed, and what’s more time is full of coincidences and repeats where the details have been slightly changed…and, unless you’re a time traveller, you’d never notice them.
I implore you to pick this up so you too can enjoy a tense, endearing genre mash-up that will sit on the shelves of your mind for long after you’ve taken in the final words.
“Dancing is life.”