My maternal grandmother was a Roman Catholic born and raised in New England. Due in part to these two facts, a framed photograph of the John F. Kennedy once hung on her wall at home. On the day Kennedy was shot, my mom was a nine-year-old little girl attending grade school somewhere in the south side of Chicago. The assassination of a President so close to their hearts and minds was devastating. Over the years I have learned most of what I know about that day and the lives of the Kennedy family from my mother’s perspective. When Stephen King underwent the task of tackling this timeless, no pun intended, topic, he knew that readers of all generations would take interest. Considering what would have happened, had Kennedy survive that day in Dallas intrigues people. In general, as humans, people like to analyze why things happen; and, how they could be different-even if life and cannot be altered. But, in the world of a science fiction writer, anything can happen.
In reading about real-world events in a novel, authenticity is extremely important. A focus on the lives of the Kennedy’s I had hoped to learn more about is not portrayed in this novel. It is through King’s depiction of his narrator, Jake Epping, who time travels under the name, George Amberson, who experiences living in the past that the reader perceives in great detail what it meant to live in 1958. King paints an often times nostalgic picture of life during this times; he describes music, fashion, TV, picture shows, classic cars, and societal expectations. The fact that the author has painstakingly researched the cultural history of the time period is only amplified by his knowledge of JFK conspiracy theories.
A novel, whose title implies that it will be dedicated to the subject of President Kennedy ends up focusing on time travel the ramifications that go along with it. From the moment the narrator locates the “rabbit-hole” he may travel to the past through, the reader is kept in suspense about what he will do and how what he does will change the present. However, in order to get a glimpse of Dallas, the Oswalds, or the plot to assassinate Kennedy, the reader must wait. In order to test the theory that time can be altered, Jake attempts to fix the lives of a couple families first. The story of his journey to the past becomes four years in length, because the “rabbit-hole” always leads to the same date in 1958. Therefore, the novel depicts the life of Jake Epping during the years he waits for his big chance to change the world.
During Jake’s (George’s) few years spent in Jodie, Texas, he begins a new life, and the plot quickly slows. In addition, much of what happens to Jake during this time seems insignificant to the big picture. King makes it clear that the more a person alters the way the past once was, a butterfly effect occurs. Much Jake’s life with his girlfriend Sadie, is shown to connect ideas that are repeated throughout the novel. The narrator comes to notice coincidences between past and present. It is clear that King thought about how harmful altering previously unscathed lives in another version of their existence would determine their future.
The reason I read the book was not to learn about everyday people in the late fifties or early sixties, I wanted to know about JFK. Although a reader of science-fiction knows there can be no real answers, I selfishly wanted them. In the parts of the novel about Oswald and his possible co-conspirator’s, it became obvious that because of all the theories we know today, an author writing on this subject can never be reliable. Of course this novel is fiction, but speculations made by the narrator about events occurring at the Oswald home, where he had planted a bug and spied on them with binoculars, were unnerving. This is only one version of history, and according to the author, there are many.
This novel helped me analyze the time-space continuum in new and interesting ways. Time travel is fascinating. Still, because most of the book was not about altering the day of Kennedy’s assassination, I was disappointed. When reading an 800 page novel, one must be drawn in to every aspect of the text to make it readable. May readers, including the New York Times Book Review, gave the novel praise. I may be judging too harshly. I spent too much time reading portions I wished had been omitted so I could get to the good stuff.