This novel tells of Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher at his local high school, teaching some GED classes for extra money. One of his GED students, the high school’s janitor, Harry Dunning, writes a tear-jerking essay for his final, about how his family was killed by his alcoholic father and how he was crippled for life.
A few years later, when Jake visits his friend, Al, at Al’s Diner, Al shows Jake a time portal in the pantry of his diner; Al, seems to have aged years within a day, explains that he had used the portal to travel back in time, and had lived years in the past before he developed cancer and had to return.
The few rules to the portal are as follows:
- Each trip to the past is a complete reset to September 9, 1958. Whenever you enter the portal, you’re undoing whatever you did the last trip.
- Each time coming back from the past through the portal, no matter how long you stay, you come back two minutes after you left.
- The past can be changed, impacting the future, but the past is also obdurate; it tries it’s very hardest to stop from being changed.
After Al shows Jake the ropes, he sends Jake on the mission that he had been unable to complete last time. From what Al has observed, everything bad in the world can be traced back to John F. Kennedy’s assassination; if Jake could stop the assassination, the world would likely be a better place. And if it wasn’t, he could always go back and reset it.
Jake agrees to the plan, but adds a few elements of his own; he would drop by the Dunning household, and stop Frank Dunning from murdering Harry’s family. Then, he would wait until 1963, watching and monitoring the world around him, and stop Kennedy’s assassination.
The title of this novel definitely was the eye-catcher on the library bookshelf for me, in addition to its impressive size. The reality of life that’s starkly shown in this novel, contrasting the preposterous situation Jake enters into, is why I enjoyed it so much. He constantly feels the danger of discovery, injecting an underlying urgency into the story, but I also felt a wrenching desire for him to settle down when he finds a wonderful woman in a content little town where he could live a happy life in the past.
There’s a sense of heroism to the story as well; armed with the knowledge of the future, Jake strives to do his best for the greater good of the world. However, the past is “obdurate;” he runs into so many obstacles when he tries to change things, ultimately causing more harm than good. It’s an excellent example of how good intentions do not necessarily bring good results.