Three Star review, originally posted here on November 3, 2016.
** spoiler alert **
Right off the bat I’ll say that I’ve read a couple other people’s reviews that are very similar to the one I am about to write, and on those I’ve seen other people (seemingly angrily, for some reason?) say, “They why’d you rate it three stars if you hate it so much?” I thought it would go without saying, but I guess not… Because this is Stephen Fucking King, and this dude can write. That’s still true for this book. And there’s some stuff I liked just fine, like basically the entire first section of the book when he’s back in creepy Maine and it just feels like a sequel to It and we can ignore the whole JFK silliness.
The best thing about this book is that it removed one of the biggest obstacles I have when it comes to trying to enjoy time travel books: King set up a past that resists change. Usually I can’t really get into time-travel tales because it’s virtually impossible to address the butterfly effect without being too overwhelmingly abstract and technical, or without making the story seem weak because it fails to properly address these big gaping plot holes. And when our protagonist starts trying to get down into the weeds, another character calls him out on it and just goes “Hey doofus, stop overthinking it, we’re not rocket scientists.” Works for me! King’s time-travel rules allowed me to go along with the time travel without being frustrated by its over-simplicity or over-complication.
All that being said, my biggest problem was that I never really understood WHY we were going back to save Kennedy. Everything at the beginning was being so built up and was explained in such detail that I assumed that, by the time we got to Al telling us his Kennedy plan, the plan would make total sense to us. But… it never really does. Our protagonist Jake is supposedly this rational, intelligent guy who is all to aware of stuff like the butterfly effect, and early on in his experiment he learns that we never know the consequence of a major time alteration, and yet he goes through with this several year long plot anyway. I had heard ahead of time that this book was supposedly more a love story that a time travel story, but if that’s true, then we sure as hell spend a ton of time and energy on a shitty time travel sub plot that doesn’t make any sense. Like, WHY do we spend so much time spying on this family? What do we actually think that any of this will accomplish? What the hell is the point of even being in the past right now? I would have had full respect if Jake at some point halfway though went, “Uh, fuck it, maybe trying to alter the course of the entire planet singlehandedly with no awareness or expertise is a bad idea. I’m just gonna fuck this young virgin librarian for a while instead.” But nope. Instead we go move into a slum to watch Oswald beat his wife across the street.
Speaking of that young virgin librarian… This was the other major thing that made it impossible for me to love this book. Supposedly these two folks are in love, right? Which means they should be partners. But instead Jake/George is Mr. White Night, who thinks his main duties with her were to protect her and to do sexing to her. He was so condescending and secretive, which was just such an insult to a fully developed , complex human character. Again, if he had learned along the way, if he’d gone “I’ve learned that it’s just as important to be able to accept support as it is to give it,” we’d be good to go. But nope. Instead he’s trying to protect her like an infant the whole way through.
So both of these issues culminate to a perfect shit sandwich that made me officially give up on liking this book during the climactic race to stop Oswald on assassination day. Sadie demonstrates her supersmarts by finding Jake after he attempts to disappear. Then she demonstrates trust and courage and teamwork by saying she’ll go with Jake to help in his mystery quest because she trust him when he says its important and she sees that he’s too busted to do it himself. And Jake’s still all “no I couldn’t drag you into this it’s too dangerous.” #1: You should have figured out by now that killing Oswald is a stupid idea. #2. You should have figured out by now that this chick is way tougher than you. I think through this whole part we’re supposed to see our protagonist as this perfect hero, saving the world and saving the girl, but all I could see was a big fucking idiot.
Along those same lines, listening to this guy brag about how good at sex he is was cracking me up. Another reviewer likened it to the scene in 40 Year Old Virgin when he describes a boob like a bag of sand, and that’s pretty spot-on. Pro tip: If some dude claims to be a superstar (great in bed, saving the girl, saving the world, inspiring the teens, etc), he’s probably a mega tool.
And then in the end the world basically blows up and he’s like, “Oh, maaaaaybe there are consequences of some sort to changing the past?” I could have told him that on page 1, so you’d think that at some point over the next several years of contemplating life he would have thought about it a little, but nope.
Also, yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and be that guy… This book is TOO LONG. There, I said it. And yet, even with 800+ pages, we somehow manage to gloss over an entire year spent in Florida. How long were we there, like 8 pages? It’s a quarter of the timeline but 1% of the page count. It felt like there were probably supposed to be another 200 pages in that location but some editor snuck in when Stephen King wasn’t looking and just yanked them out.