ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, THREE SHOTS RANG OUT IN DALLAS, PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED, AND THE WORLD CHANGED. WHAT IF YOU COULD CHANGE IT BACK?
In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.
It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.
High school English teacher Jake Epping has his work cut out for him in King's entertaining SF romantic thriller. Al Templeton, the proprietor of Al's Diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, has discovered a temporal "rabbit hole" in the diner's storage room that leads to a point in the past--11:58 a.m. September 9, 1958, to be precise. Each time you go through the rabbit hole, according to Al, only two minutes have elapsed when you return to 2011, no matter how long your stay; furthermore, history resets itself each time you return to that morning 53 years ago. Al persuades Jake to take a brief, exploratory trip through the rabbit hole into 1958 Lisbon Falls. After Jake's return, a suddenly older and sick-looking Al confesses that he spent several years in this bygone world, in an effort to prevent President Kennedy's assassination, but because he contracted lung cancer, he was unable to fulfill his history-changing mission. "You can go back, and you can stop" the assassination, he tells Jake.
Jake, with only an alcoholic ex-wife by way of family, is inclined to honor his dying friend's request to save JFK, but he also has a personal reason to venture into the past. A night school student of his, school janitor Harry Dunning, recently turned in an autobiographical essay describing how on Halloween night 1958 Dunning's father took a hammer to Dunning's mother and other family members with, in some cases, fatal results. An attempt to head off this smaller tragedy provides a test case for Jake, to see if he can alter the past for the better.
Hundreds of pages later, once over the initial hurdles, Jake is working under a pseudonym as a high school teacher in Jodie, Tex., an idyllic community north of Dallas. Knowing who's going to win sporting events like the World Series comes in handy when he's short of funds, though this ability to foretell the future turns out to have a downside. Indeed, the past, as Jake discovers to his peril, has an uncanny, sometimes violent way of resisting change, of putting obstacles in the way of anyone who dares fiddle with it. The author of Carrie knows well how to spice the action with horrific shivers.
In Jodie, Jake meets a fellow teacher, Sadie Dunhill, who's estranged from her husband, a religious fanatic with serious sexual hangups. Jake and Sadie fall in love, but their relationship has its difficulties, not least because Jake is reluctant to tell Sadie his real identity or reason for being in Texas. Clearly inspired by Jack Finney's classic Time and Again, King smoothly blends their romance into the main story line, setting up the bittersweet ending that's as apt as it is surprising. He also does a fine job evoking the sights, sounds, and smells of the late '50s and early '60s. The root beer even tastes better back then.
By early 1963, Jake is zeroing in on a certain former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and has recently returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife. Relying on Al's judgment, Jake is only about 75% sure that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot JFK, so he spends much time trying to ascertain whether Oswald is part of a conspiracy. Jake admits to not having researched the Kennedy assassination while still in 2011 Maine. If he had, he might've given up after concluding that it would be hopeless to try to stop, say, the Mafia, or the CIA, or Vice President Johnson from killing Kennedy. On the other hand, the plot would've been a lot less interesting if Jake, convinced on entering the past that Oswald was the sole gunman, felt compelled to eliminate Oswald long before that pathetic loser settled into his sniper's nest in the Texas School Book Depository, toward which Jake winds up racing on the morning of November 22, 1963.
In an afterword, King puts the probability that Oswald acted alone at "ninety-eight percent, maybe even ninety-nine." "It is very, very difficult for a reasonable person to believe otherwise," he adds. King cites several major books he consulted, but omits what I consider the definitive tome on the subject, Vincent Bugliosi's Edgar-winning Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Norton, 2007). Bugliosi, who makes an overwhelming case in my view that the Warren Commission essentially got it right, covers the same ground as a book King does mention, Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Random, 2003), then goes on to destroy the arguments of the conspiracy theorists, with wit and ridicule as weapons. Of course, there will always be intelligent and otherwise reasonable people, like PW's anonymous reviewer of Reclaiming History and King's wife, novelist Tabitha King (a life-long "contrarian," King tells us), who side with the host of cranks emotionally invested in believing Oswald was the patsy he claimed. Those folks may have a problem with this suspenseful time-travel epic, but the rest of us will happily follow well-meaning, good-hearted Jake Epping, the anti-Oswald if you will, on his quixotic quest.
Reviewed by Peter Cannon, PW's Mystery/Thriller reviews editor.
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011PW
Showing 1-9 of the 9 most recent reviews
1 . Great Book
Posted June 11, 2012 by Robin F , Kimball, TNI love this Stephen King book better than any I have EVER read. It takes you back to long ago and it is simply wonderful. Thanks Mr. King for a great read!! You are the best!!
2 . smooth
Posted March 20, 2012 by shelby rae , KYvery smoothly written. its a little different for him but not too far off the beaten path. strange references in the end that reminded me of The Dark Tower...i wonder if anyone else thought so...hmmmmm. extremely enjoyable book, attention grabbing AND attention holding.
3 . A Wonderful Read
Posted March 05, 2012 by RH Doyle , Lake Grove, NYI just finished this wonderful, imaginative Stephen King book - actually finished re-reading the last few chapters (because I didn't want to say goodby to the characters yet) and am enjoying the after glow.
For me this is one of those books that I didn't want to put down, but did so just so I wouldn't finish it too quickly - all 690+ pages of it. It's been a long time since I read Stephen King (Cujo, I think) and either he got a lot better, or I just forgot how well he writes. Either way I totally enjoyed evey page of this one.
It's filled with great characters (even a few that you may have read about in some history books) particularly Jake Epping our storyteller who takes us with him on his trip back to September 1958.
Don't wait, download this book right now. You'll be glad you did!
4 . Could not put it down!!
Posted February 13, 2012 by Stephens#1Fan , Warwick, RII admit, the Title was not interesting to me.....but being a true fan of Stephen King and knowing he would somehow put an unremarkable twist in it, I had to read it. THANK GOODNESS I DID!!! This book was full of everything we have come to expect from Mr. King and Oh-So-Much More! This book is one of his best for sure!!
5 . Great Time Travel!!!
Posted January 21, 2012 by Shelby , DallasI admit that when first seeing the cover I did not want to read this book, although usually a King fan. However, when I actually read synopsis and saw time travel, I decided to give it a try. Boy was I glad I did.
I simply could not stop reading it. I live in Dallas (originally from New Orleans and grew up during this time) and did not know so many of the real (given) facts of the assination. I actually lived in Ft. Worth and know Mercedes St. well....did not know Oswald really had lived there. That's how much I cared about history. It has made me look up and read things I never thought I would.
Thanks King....you did a GREAT job in the story. I absolutely loved the information in the return trip to 2011!! This is definitely one of your best and that says a lot!!!
6 . Excellent book, hard to put down!
Posted December 20, 2011 by Michele , Carson City, NVI actually found myself reading at stoplights, it is hard to put down and very interesting right from the beginning. Excellent work Mr. King! This is not a horror book at all, more along the lines of The Stand.... a what if? scenario. After reading the Hunger Games series I really needed something to sink my teeth into and this book provided that. Highly recommend this book, even if you're not at all interested in history.
7 . Arguably his best ever.
Posted December 10, 2011 by Dugger Wayne , Greenwood, IndianaHaving read everything the man has ever written...at least what has been made available for sale to the general public, let me just say that 11/22/63 very well could be his best work to date. Absolutely could not put it down. Recommend most highly. Stephen King continues to be America's best storyteller.
8 . WOW!!!!!
Posted December 07, 2011 by Judy U , Noonday TXI have been a fan of Stephen King's books since the beginning! I absolutely loved this book....it was such a great story. I did not want it to end. If asked which are my favorites I would have to say this is amoung the top 5.....I look forward to all of his books...keep on writing Mr. King. You are the beset storyteller ever!!!!!!!!!
9 . Some of King's best
Posted November 23, 2011 by Dave , CumberlandI simply could not put it down...some of King's best work ever in my humble opinion. Perhaps because I was alive when the assasination occured, or perhaps just because he weaves a wonderful tale of time travel and it's perceived problems.
Some wonderful characters in this book, and a terrific trip back to my childhood in the 50's and 60's. Highly recommended!
November 01, 2011
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