Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Time Travel

I may not classify myself as a major Stephen King fan, but I've always loved the idea of time travel. I watched that old Christopher Reeves movie Somewhere in Time an embarrasing number of times. I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, even spending a visit to Chicago traipsing around to the spots I remembered from the book. I even loved a movie--whose title escapes me--in which a guy inadvertently ended up in the Old West riding a motorcycle. (Favorite bit of dialogue:

"Where'd you get that map?"

"The Exxon station.")

For people of my generation and my parents', November 22, 1963, is one of those handful of days that I mark with "where I was when" memories. November 22, 1963 is evidently Stephen King's first time travel novel--one he admits in the epilogue that he tried to start years and years ago. The novel unfolds as a high school English teacher discovers (or is led to) a portal to 1958, through which he must travel in order to stop the Kennedy assassination, believing that in turn he may stop a number of historical tragedies that resulted--Vietnam, the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

He learns that no matter how much time he spends in the Land of Ago, he returns just two minutes after he left. Since he must always enter at 1958, he stands to age five years in those two minutes.

If the story had focused mainly on the Kennedys and that so-called Camelot, it would have been a different book. Instead, Jake Epping, who must go by the name George Amberson (printed on his vintage identification, makes friends--and enemies--and falls in love along the way.

The characters throughout the novel become conscious of the butterfly affect--the exponential change brought about by the slightest events. A recurring theme King's protagonist explores is the "obdurate" nature of the past--and the "harmonies."

While King fans won't experience some of the same level of horror as that of his other works, they will recognize King's style. The book runs long, and if there is one main fault, it comes in the end, when he must rely on a second-hand telling--a Reader's Digest condensed version of what has happened while he was away from the present time. I'm not sure if this is a real flaw or if the details simply overwhelmed me as a reader. (If he had followed the "show, don't tell" rule of writing, the book would have been much longer. It just felt hurried to me.)

For readers who aren't King fans, I'd recommend the book as one part alternative history, three parts love story. The woman Jake/George loves, with her own complicated story line, proves as engaging as Marina Oswald and more present in the book than Jackie.



Amber O said...

I'm so glad you mentioned this one, as I doubt I'd have ever selected a Stephen King novel on my own. You know I'm a time travel junkie too, and I lost a few hours of sleep this week staying up late and getting up early to read "just a couple more pages."

Ryan said...

I haven't read this novel yet but I plan to. If you love time travel novels I recommend Replay by Ken Grimwood. It is simply the best time travel novel ever written!