I’ve never read a Stephen King novel before. I listened to and enjoyed The Green Mile as much for the project itself as its execution (pun intended). I read King’s non-fiction book, On Writing, and enjoyed his voice and his insights. I’m not sure what drew me to this one. I’m not really a fan of time travel stories. Perhaps it was because I do believe that something fundamental changed in this country after JFK was killed.
King breaks one of the central rules (as I understand them) of anything in the neighborhood of science fiction. He creates a new world, but has his characters be deliberately fuzzy about the rules. At first, this seemed lazy, like King knew the questions, but didn’t want to bother answering them. By the end, though, it was clear that he’d created that haziness on purpose. His characters really didn’t understand the rules and they acted accordingly.
The construction of this book is remarkable. And self-conscious. King’s protagonist (perhaps too quick to turn into an action hero) notes the frequent parallels. The past is not only “obdurate”; it also harmonizes. The research is here, but never overwhelming.
King makes another regrettable choice — his main character is an English teacher. Often a cliche, over 800 pages, its impact kind of washes out. That he is not an historian matters, but why couldn’t he be a science teacher? Books that feature English teachers are filled with too many literary allusions, even for my tastes.
Some may claim that King has Peter Jackson syndrome – that the book has three endings. They might be right, but I don’t think it’s because King wasn’t sure how to end it, but that the first two were a set-up for the third. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here.) The middle ‘ending’ seems surprisingly cursory and relies a surprising amount on dialogue for exposition.
It’s a good, quick (really) read. King does believe in the principle he has his main character espouse – just tell what happens, and then what happens next. Does he rely on the coy ending a bit too much? Probably, but it’s not a huge distraction.