Basically, Mr. King had me from page one. This author has such a gift for engaging the reader and drawing the reader into his story, that no matter how tense it gets or how tedious, once you start, there is just no stopping. Even though it took me 7 months to finish the book, and when I turned the last page of the book my feeling was simply, FINALLY, I really enjoyed reading it, immensely!
Approximately 850 pages long, it does try one’s patience and might better lend itself, for some readers, to being read in segments, as I read it. The book could be described as several books in one, since there are so many different themes and characters developed; these might easily be grouped into sections, severally or singularly. That said, the characters and the different themes surrounding them were developed very well and left little for the imagination. I am certain the research for the book was very intensive, although there are times when the author uses poetic license with the facts.
Because it feels like several books under one cover, it is not difficult to put it down and resume at another time, even after reading several other books. Like a soap opera, it will feel like nothing has changed in the intervening space of time. It is the mark of King’s skill, that his simplistic but incredibly creative and interesting, informative way of presenting the story, so that the plot just keeps moving along, keeps you bound to it. If you are of a certain generation that lived through the Kennedy assassination, the characters will feel real, feel like people you might even have met in the past, characters with whom you can identify, whether or not you like them or what they represent, and certainly many are characters you will have learned about, either in school or from news reports. In some way, their emotions and behavior will reach out and touch you so that each time you pick up the book, possibly after an extended pause in the reading, you might feel as if you are encountering an old friend, once again.
This is the story of Jake Epping, a schoolteacher, separated from his wife. He is befriended by Al Templeton, a janitor and the owner of the local diner which seems to have a door in the pantry that opens onto another time, a place where the time and space continuum is changed.
Jake is asked, by Al, to move back and forth in time, in order to try and rewrite history, specifically, the murder of John F. Kennedy. Along the way, he develops other pressing personal issues and problems to solve, and so the story, of necessity, moves back and forth in time with him. Sometimes the length is tedious, but most often, putting down the book for a bit will solve that problem, and the reader will be drawn back to the story to find out its conclusion, of that I am sure.
Some of the stories within the book are romantic, some violent, some tragic, and some are mysterious, but all are interesting. George Amberson, alias Jake Epping, moves from Maine to Texas, eventually, via a circuitous route created for him by Templeton, who has passed the mantle of his failed effort to stop the assassination, onto the shoulders of his created character, George Amberson. Al has tried to think of everything George will need to enable him to step into his shoes, at the appropriate time. Within the confines of the diner, the doorway to the past leads specifically to 1958. George will have five years, until the assassination takes place, to plan his stragegy and deal with how the past protects itself from interference. His road will be a long and arduous one, but he will navigate it several times, by choice, with different purposes.
As the story and its odd coincidences continue, called harmonies in the author’s terminology, some events and themes of the past will converge and intertwine with events, as George’s new life transpires, day by day, and so it begs you to suspend disbelief so that they will add, rather than detract from the themes that eventually develop. Cars that caused tragedies in the past will become the tools of tragedies he will experience in the future, albeit the future of George Amberson, not Jake Epping. Knives that caused grievous injuries in the past will reappear and be used to cause other tragedies once again as will hand guns, injuries of the past will be similar for other victims in the future, etc. For every change in the past, there will be some ripple to come, and this effect may or may not be positive.
The romance, the supernatural, the science fiction, the coming of age of certain characters, the tragedies, all of these, and more, come together very well. It is not rocket science, but it is a well researched book, albeit with the author taking poetic license with some facts, and it is certainly a good, imaginative read.
Is George Amberson successful? Can the future be changed by altering the past? Are there consequences? Are the consequences worth it; in other words, do the ends justify the means? The reader will decide that when the last page is turned and probably not a moment before.