This was another book group choice. I have seen a lot of Stephen King films but only read one book, Needful Things which I quite enjoyed but it wasn’t really my thing. I wasn’t against reading this as I am a history geek so was intrigued, but was a little put off by the fact it’s another whopper and I’ve only recently slogged through The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and others.
In short, it’s your standard time travel plot with a high school English teacher going back to 1958 and deciding to stay on until 1963 to save Kennedy. In between he wins a few dodgy bets on unlikely boxers and baseball games, meets the love of his life and signs on as a substitute teacher. It’s not very original, in fact watch the Quantum Leap episode where Sam Beckett jumps into Lee Harvey Oswald and you’ll have more fun, in less time.
I found it easier to read than I expected, getting through it in a few days, but nonetheless I didn’t really enjoy it that much. For a start, it opens at a rate of knots with the whole set up regarding the discovery of the time portal and Jake’s first journey back in time over with in a matter of pages which considering the massive leap of faith required to accept this, is a bit much.
There are a lot of (long) detailed descriptions of the sights, sounds, and tastes of post-war America, it actually reads like a nostalgic love letter to a golden era. This is one of my problems with the book, the picture of America is an overly romanticised one. King is definitely looking back with rose tinted spectacles. He realises this and guiltily tries to make amends with references to segregation, sexual oppression and poverty but to me this is no more than tokenism and is far outweighed by the cosy images of real root beer and high school hops.
Although King explains away all the convenient coincidences by calling them ‘harmonies’ of time travel, they are just too unbelievable for me. How many English teachers in 2011 know how to lindyhop?
Some of the writing is a little clunky and there are too many repeated metaphors like time being a house of cards, but as mentioned above, length aside, it’s not a difficult read. Die hard King fans might enjoy the references to other books (the child killer who dresses up as a clown, the suggestion that Jake might end up in “Shawshank prison”) but I think this just smacks of self-indulgence.
I’m trying to write this without spoilers so I will just say that the “almost” ending is the most ridiculous thing of all which takes the idea of the butterfly effect to a ludicrous extreme.
In all, it’s an over-long vanity project only saved by its readability.