If you had the chance to go back in time and change history to prevent a national tragedy, would you? That is the chance given to Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Maine. Al Templeton, the owner of a local diner, lets Jake in on a secret: there’s a “rabbit hole” in his storeroom that leads back to 1958. Al has a plan to go back and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy. But, Al is now dying of lung cancer, so he needs Jake’s help to complete his self-appointed mission to save the country by changing its history.
Jake also teaches adult GED classes and he read a theme written by his school’s janitor on “the day that changed my life.” It seems that there was a very gruesome and horrible event in Harry the janitor’s childhood – something that has scarred him for life, both physically and mentally. Jake’s not quite sure what to make of this time travel stuff, but decides that if it’s for real, he’s also going to try and change the course of events that led to this personal tragedy, in addition to trying to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy.
Of course, no story this good (and yes, it really is a good as everyone has said) would be so simple and straightforward. We learn that the past is obdurate. Don’t worry, I had to look that word up too. It means “unmoved by persuasion, pity, or tender feelings; stubborn; unyielding.” Basically, when you try to change the past, the past tries to stop you. The larger of a change you are making, the more the past will try to stop that change. And stopping Oswald from assassinating Kennedy is a mighty big change.
What makes Stephen King‘s novel so great is not just the premise (a fairly neat twist on the time travel idea), but the story itself and the characters about whom we come to care so much. Since the “rabbit hole” dumps Jake out in Maine in 1958, and Kennedy’s date with destiny is in Dallas in 1963, that leaves Jake with five years of living to do – as well as making sure that Oswald really did do it and acted alone. Along the way he gets a job teaching, meets a librarian named Sadie, and falls in love.
Does Jake stop Oswald? What would happen to our history if Kennedy had lived? What about Jake and Sadie? You don’t really want me to tell you, you really want to pick this book up and discover its wonder yourself. I’ll just end by saying that I’m not what you’d call a crying man, and it’s rare for a book to bring me to tears, but this is one of two books I read in 2011 that did just that.