This book won’t knock my favourite Stephen King novel from its top spot. But did I enjoy it? Yes. Most definitely. Now, don’t go thinking this is traditional King genre. It’s not. There is no horror in sight, although there are thriller elements and lots and lots of tension. This is a time travel novel. Pure and simple time travel, and every single page of it, reminds me why Stephen King is one of the best-selling authors of our times and a true master of his craft.
Jake Epping is an ordinary schoolteacher in Maine when something extraordinary happens to him. A dying friend tells Jake of a wormhole he has discovered that allows him to travel back in time and begs him to finish off a job he can no longer finish: to change the course of history and America itself by saving the life of JFK.
The rules of the wormhole are simple. Stepping through it, will take Jake to a specific day in 1954 and no matter how long or brief his stay is in the past, when he steps back to the present only two minutes will have lapsed.
Reluctant at first, Jake agrees to go through the wormhole to the unspoilt America of the 1950’s where food and drink burst with taste and people are friendly. This lures Jake into agreeing to his friend’s mission, on the condition he will prevent Lee Oswald from killing the president, but only if Jake is convinced beyond any doubt that Oswald is solely responsible for the assassination.
Jake, under his new George Amberson identity, falls into the rhythm of the 1950’s straight away. He gets a job he enjoys, meets a woman that makes his heart sing, and never loses sight of his mission. It seems to Jake that nothing can get in his way, but time is obdurate, it doesn’t like to be changed. And the closer he gets to achieving his goal, the harder it becomes and the more Jake has to lose. Including a woman he has grown to love.
The tension is built up pretty steadily throughout with several sub-plots tied together beautifully. The whole part on following Lee Oswald is pretty haunting, and the story naturally accelerates when Jake establishes beyond doubt that the only way to save the president, is to become a murderer and kill Oswald.
King uses minute detail to build his story and characters, typical of his writing and one of the things I really enjoy about his style. His use of the time travel theme, and the time travel rules he employs, aren’t fresh by any means. They recur in many other time travel novels. Concepts like the butterfly effect; how a very small change in the past can significantly alter the present and future, as well as the guardians of time concept; where certain people have knowledge of the space/time paradox and can protect it from time travellers, may have been overdone, but not when combined with Stephen King’s writing.
The depth of his characters and the story pulls you in, making time travel just a vehicle for the story to reach its completion. Maybe at first glance 746 pages seem a little excessive, but anyone familiar with other works by King will know that every single character has to be dissected before our eyes (sometimes even literally) until we really care and root for them.
A huge sub-plot of the novel is romance, enough of it to give Audrey Niffenenger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) a run for her money. Enough to make me cry during the last few pages. And although that isn’t particularly hard (I’m too soft, I am told) I don’t think I have ever cried at the end of a Stephen King book. I may have refused to go to sleep without the lights on, but I have never cried.
And at 746 pages it’s a pretty heavy book. If you can manage holding it for longer than an hour a go, not only will you get a great read, you’ll also tone your upper arms! I reckon it’s a win – win situation.
Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99