Author: Stephen King
Published: 2011 (Scribner)
Whatever else there is to say about him, Stephen King can tell a damn fine story when he concentrates and somebody gets brave enough to remind him that he still needs an editor. This book on time travel used to stop JFK’s assassination is proof I will drop upon his head if he ever lets something like Under the Dome out of his writing drawer again.
This one’s giant, meaty, compelling, and straightforward. Straightforward! In over 800 pages, he doesn’t make any unnecessary side trips, physical or philosophical, and the only reason I’m not calling that a miracle is because it didn’t feel miraculous. It felt—simple.
I won’t give away the whole plot since this is a brand-new book (for once), but basic outline: protagonist discovers a time travel portal in the back of his friend’s diner. It always leads to the same September morning in 1958. Diner owner uses it to buy meat super cheap and bring it back to the future. (One of my favorite details.) Diner guy is dying and wants protagonist to go prevent JFK’s assassination. Protagonist does and comes back to see how that’s affected 2011. Now between those last two sentences, add massive piles of well-intentioned lies, skipping towns, sporting bets, runs from the mob, using money to solve problems, murders, notes from the diner guy, shitty apartments, falling in love, sacrifices, consequences, Russian ex-pats, cigarette smoke, the Cuban Missile Crisis, blood, broken bones, and a past that DOES NOT want to be changed. Bam. You got yourself a long satisfying glut of Stephen King plotting.
His writing ticks (repetition, heavy reliance on exposition-tastic and unhumanly “hip” dialogue, overextended use of metaphor, defanged climax) are kept at a minimum, but he does do that thing where the protagonist is a bland everyman hero and the girl he falls in love with is even less sketched out. WHY AND HOW DO THEY LOVE EACH OTHER? I DON’T KNOW, and it’s the driving force for the novel’s full back half. Her major trait is she’s tall and clumsy and although she gets upset about the protagonist’s lies, she eventually just accepts him without any further explanation. I don’t know why she changed her mind. SHE doesn’t know why she changed her mind. Manic Pixie King Girl, right there.
And I so, so wish he would’ve written more deeply into a villain. He’s absolute best when he’s describing a psychopath unraveling. But from a characterization perspective, I do appreciate his ability to keep Lee Harvey Oswald a fully rounded human and not a cardboard holder of evil and guns.
It didn’t take me nearly as long as it should have to read this book because I kept wanting to know what happened, and the ending paid off my ignoring other things to read for a couple more hours. Which was awesome.