Author: Stephen King
Genre: Fiction, SF, Alternate History
For many years, I read Mr. King almost by accident. Picking up a worn paperback at a friend’s house, or at best, picking up a tattered old copy at a used bookstore. It wasn’t quite intentional, but you couldn’t exactly call it an accident though.
That changed when I read his thin book “On Writing.” It is chock full of personal stories, told clearly without bravado and King drew me into his world and I wanted more. (It didn’t hurt that I listened to the audio book version and he narrated it himself.) After that I read Duma Key, Carrie, The Mist and Under the Dome during the past couple years, enjoying all to a more or lesser degree.(Dome was just too long and Mist probably too short.)
So when his alternate history about the assassination of Jack Kennedy came out this fall, I pushed it to the top of my reading list without hesitation.
Without giving too much away (but please walk on by if you don’t want to know anything) here is my pro/con, shoot-from-the-hip, 5 bullet treatment of the book:
1. This is another long book. At times it felt too long, but off-hand, I can only think of relatively short passages to crop. (So this is a neutral point.)
2. One of the best King scenes I have ever read. There is one scene in the book that doesn’t move the plot forward really, but is a beautiful gem. In the grim town of Derry, Maine, the protagonist (Jake Epping) stumbles upon a high school couple practicing the Lindy Hop in a small, out-the-way park abutting the desolate “barrens” which King fans know as a miserable, evil place. The couple is beautiful and playful against the rising fear and misery that is the tide of the story. This scene is a wonderful Raymond-Carver-type-of-moment that King pulls off beautifully.
3. “The past is obdurate.” This phrase is repeated often in the book and is a seductive idea. Basically, as our time travelers try to change history, the past musters events to try to stop them from making any change. The past is unrepentant and will not be changed without a fight. It can also be brutal. This idea itself will keep you thinking for a while.
4. Personification of the grand, obdurate machinery of time and history was a bit of a let down. Luckily, it was only a small and inconsequential part of the story, and therefore it was more of a distraction than a huge problem. After seeing both the beauty in the machine of history (see point two above), and the fierce, brutal obduracy in so many places, personifying it that was bound to be a let down. I think I understand why he did it and maybe why he had to do it, but still, it was not a highlight of the book.
5. The characters are strong. I liked Jack and Sadie — definitely likable characters. But I thought the characterization of the historical figures was good too. Whether it is the truth or not, I feel like I know Lee Oswald. The few tender Oswald family moments that you glimpse in the story, don’t make you feel sorry for him, but they frame his truly monstrous/pathetic life with some humanity none-the-less. Most of all, I liked the baby, June Oswald, a lot! The machinery of King’s fictive histories and actual history buzz-sawed all around her and yet she seemed unaffected and just a baby. June was a relief in some ways.
I’ll see you on the web…