Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Warning - May contain spoilers!
Jake Epping clearly states that good writing provokes an emotional response in the reader. In his case, he is reading the rather shocking story of a young boy who watches his father murder his whole family, and unfortunately doesn’t escape without his own injuries.
Never a crying man, this story provokes an emotional response in him that he hasn’t felt for years.
I think that’s the reason why this is my favorite novel. This is the third time I’ve read it. Many books have made me laugh hysterically (see Danny Wallace’s Yes Man), they have made me cower behind my fingers (try King’s Bag Of Bones) and they have made me cry (one that stands out is Katheryn Stockett’s The Help) but very few… perhaps none actually, have me cry, laugh, sigh, and grip the book so close to me because it’s so tense! None of them have excited me quite as much.
I love the way Jake/George describes all of the differences between his own era and the one he finds himself in, how he makes us feel that we are right there with him. I love his discoveries as he first walks down Lisbon Street and goes into the Kennebec Fruit (and I was even more excited to find out that the Kennebec Fruit is actually a real place!). I love how he spies on Oswald, and how he becomes an important part of Jodie. I love the dances, and so help me, I even love the Yellow Card Man a little bit!
Let’s just recap shall we. Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, reads a piece of work from his adult literature class written by “hop-toad” Harry, the school Janitor. This devastating childhood memory awakens something in him. He then receives a mysterious phone call from acquaintance and local diner owner, Al Templeton. He needs to see him. When he gets there, Al looks like death warmed up and is dying from cancer. How can this be? He only saw him a night ago. With some difficulty, Al manages to tell Jake that he has discovered – some time ago – a worm hole… or a rabbit hole… that takes you back in time. What’s the catch? Well…
Each journey takes you back to the same point in time… 9th of September, 1958, at 11.58 am,
No matter how long you are gone – hours, days, weeks, or years – only two minutes lapse in present day, which at this moment in time, is 2011
That past can be changed, but each journey back is a total reset
History has already happened. It doesn’t like to be changed, so the past throws out mean obstacles in an attempt to prevent it.
Jake takes a journey back – just an hour – and has wander around, drinks a cold root beer, and meets the yellow card man (A wino that resides near the rabbit hole, and seems to vaguely no what's going on), then returns. Okay, but why does Al want him to know? It doesn’t take long for Jake to figure out that Al wants him to go back and save the life of President Kennedy. Why? Because he thinks the world would be a better place if he had lived. If it doesn’t, then Jake can just reset what he’s changed and get on with his life.
That would be great, but it’s a long time for someone to live in the past, especially when time will only move in the present by 2 minutes, so when he returns he’ll have aged roughly 5 years, but to anyone that knows him, over night. Besides, how does he know it would work?
Al has already done a test, saving a young girl from being shot and paralyzed. But Jake needs more than that. Doesn’t he know someone that suffered a terrible tragedy… someone that he could save.
Off he goes, back to the 1950s. He lives for a while, and attempts to save Harry Dunning and his family from his father. Living in Derry is a very unpleasant experience for him – King fans, notice the nod to IT’s Ritchie, Beverly and Mr Keene, as well as mentions of a killer clown – but he sticks it out. On Halloween however, he’s struck by a… stomach bug shall we say. After a not quite successful attempt, he goes back again. This time he will stop the girl from getting paralyzed, save Harry and his family, then lay in wait and save the president. He can’t just kill Lee Harvey Oswald, because he has to close the window of uncertainty. Did Oswald act alone?
It would be simple enough for him to lay in wait, spy on Oswald when the time comes, then quietly dispose of him. It would also be very lonely and boring. Jake – now George – actually quite likes living in the past. The food is tastier, the people friendlier and things are generally more simple. What would be wrong with getting a job and renting a little house, just while he’s waiting to spy on Oswald? Nothing really, until he makes friends and falls in love.
Enter Sadie Dunhill. Tall, slim, beautiful, accident prone Sadie. Jake/George falls for her immediately and for a while lives two lives – George Amberson, the school teacher who is part of a community, and Jake Epping, the man who spying on Oswald trying to figure out if he acted alone. This is an up and down journey, that does indeed lead to the President living on that fatal day. It’s not without it’s costs though, all part of the obdurate pasts attempt to stay the same.
Back at the rabbit hole, before coming back the present, the Yellow Card Man is now the Green Card Man, and it turns out, he is part of a group that monitors these portals all across the universe. The pressure of the job turns them a bit loopy. He tells Jake that the rabbit hole is actually a temporary bubble, that will eventually disappear. Travelling back in time doesn’t actually reset the changes, but actually creates alternate time lines, all of which live in his head. It also causes reality to become unstable, as Jake/George discovered when he lands back in 2011.
Present day – The USA has been all but destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse and frequent natural disasters. He comes across Harry Dunning, who explains some of the things that happened after Kennedy’s attempted assassination failed, one of which was Vietnam happened (Something Al thought Kennedy wouldn’t do) and it escalated into a nuclear war.
Other than changing the world for the worse, the spiraling time lines are tearing the universe apart. So it’s time for a final trip to the 1950s… but can he leave Sadie there? After a few months of living there, fearing that everything he does will cause something bad to happen, he returns to 2011, and the rabbit hole disappears forever. Eventually, he finds Sadie, now an old woman, and dances with her once last time.
This story has many levels. Its a fantasy, that explores history, conspiracy and speculates on what might have been. It’s an adventure, with a hint of sci-fi and a dash of a love story. Just like Jake/George creates many alternate time lines, this has many branches of the story.
There’s Jake/George, needing to the save Harry.
There’s Jake/George needing to save the president.
There’s Jake/George, the murderer.
There’s Jake/George, the school teacher.
There’s Jake/George, the spy that takes risky bets, that eventually get him beat up.
There’s Jake/George, lover and protector of Sadie Dunhill.
One section of the story unfolds into the next, and you can clearly see each level of Jake/George’s character.
I love everything about this book.
When I’ve read various other reviews of this book, I feel like there is a lot that people don’t get about it.
I’ve seen people ask why on earth a man that barely knows Al Templton, would go back in time to save the president, just because it was his dying wish? Or for that matter, why would he go back and save Harry and his family… again he barely knows him.
Yes, I’ll admit, it’s a bit odd that he does do this. But once he realizes that he can change Harry’s life, save him and his family, he life has a purpose. Saving Kennedy gives him a purpose. This mission also gives him a sort of power. In the past, he is in the “know”, and he is doing something that matters.
I have seen people ask why on earth he would risk the future of the world for love? Okay, so Jake/George could have hidden away, and not had contact with others. But the book would have been considerably shorter, and pretty boring. I do believe that their love was true, Jake/George is dealing with death… of course one of the biggest obstacles the past throws at him, is love.
Why would Jake/George go and find Sadie in the future, when she’s old? Jake spent all of that time in the past, trying to change the world. He made friends and fell in love in the process and at the end of it all, he had to erase it and for what? He had nothing to show for it, only memories that he can’t even share with anyone. His finding her isn’t about trying to form a new relationship with her, it’s almost like closure. he never got to say goodbye to Sadie, and this is his chance.
For an English teacher, he uses the word obdurate a lot. Can’t he think of a better word to use? Hasn’t anyone ever noticed a sense of urgency in King’s books? It’s like he uses the same phrases to get a point across. It’s like “THIS STATEMENT” must be repeated before you will understand exactly what I’m trying to say, and what this is about. In this case, it’s “The past is obdurate”. We need to understand how difficult this task is. How frustrating it is for Jake/George. I feel that that is why this phrase is repeated.
I could go on forever. I suppose what I’m trying to say, is that I love love love this book. I don’t know the above opinions are correct, or if they’re just my opinion. I could be totally wrong. Really, I don’t care all that much.
For the most part, this story is set in one of my favorite eras… the 1950s, and the start of the 1960s. I don’t know why this time fascinates me so much. I know it wasn’t really that great, as Jake/George points out from time to time, even though it was a time of polite, respectful youths, friendly neighbors and full tasting food, it had many downsides… racism, low respect for women, and the world was very uniformed about many things including how to live a healthy life style. Although it’s better to eat a fuller diet in moderation, some of things were maybe a bit too full. And let’s face it, a lot of the jobs could be quite detrimental to your health!
This piece of writing made me do a lot of research into Lee Harvey Oswald too, so I feel a lot more informed now. Whilst a lot of it is obviously fictionalized, quite a bit of it is based on real facts.
All I can say is that life turns on a dime, and no matter what happens, we can’t really change it.
Oh and I’m super thirsty for a root beer…