“I want to go ahead of Father Time with a scythe of my own.” – H.G. Wells
Stephen King’s latest novel departs from his typical horror genre by diving into American history and the forgotten past of our mistakes and regrets to answer “What if?” What if you did get second chances? What if America had a second chance at changing global history? A high school English teacher named Jake Epping stumbles on a time portal in his small Maine town that can bring him back to 1958, and he realizes he can change anything from local family accidents to national crises. After a few ventures into the past and dramatically changing two peoples lives for the better, Epping decides to alter the ultimate watershed moment in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
Because the time portal can only take Epping to 1958 and the assassination doesn’t happen until 1963, he prepares to live for five years in the past. We see everything in the late 1950s and early 1960s from a 2012 perspective. For example, Epping compares the ease of interstate travel and forging a counterfeit identity in a pre-9/11 era. He assumes the identity of a man named George Amberson, entirely made possible by cardboard licenses that don’t have pictures on them yet.
King’s imagery of the 1960s is bursting with color and flavor. Jake Epping experiences a world where the food hasn’t been watered down by preservatives and food coloring yet, and tasting a simple root beer float is a sugary headache. Epping’s traverses the landscape lightly at first, carefully discovering the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that saturates every conversation and picking up the slang to blend in. It’s a scenery of hotrods, poodle skirts, briefcases, and ancient “modern” technology. While tip-toeing through the pop culture and politics, Epping must track down Lee Harvey Oswald and his new wife Marina and be at the right place at the right time. Each moment inevitably leads towards the moment Oswald points his rifle at JFK’s exposed head riding in a convertible through Dallas.