Saturday, August 11, 2012


For my generation, everyone could answer the question "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" Everyone knew where they were, what they were doing, when they heard the news. (I was in third grade. Our class went for a walk after lunch - most unusual. Our teacher spoke with a construction crew, asking "how is he?" Shortly after we returned to our classroom, Principal Warren came in to tell us the news, and sent us home.)

Over the years, the questions have changed.

"Where were you when space shuttle Challenger exploded?" (Working at Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, listening to the radio.)

"Where were you when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated?" (Here in Kalamazoo, moving my father from one apartment to another. My brother heard the news on the radio as he drove from Plymouth to help us, and I heard from him.)

And, of course, "Where were you when the planes hit the Towers?" (Working at National City, here in Kalamazoo, listening to the radio; then watching the TV in a conference room; then glued to the news at home.)

There are, of course, defining moments that have a more positive spin. For me (and others in the Mormon Church) one such moment was when President Kimball announced the revelation that  extended priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church, including Blacks. (I was listening to the radio, in my car, on an exit ramp. I can picture the ramp, although I'm not sure what exit it was - probably I was getting on Telegraph Rd from I-94, on my way home from work at Burroughs).

Stephen King's newest novel focuses on the first of these moments - the day John F. Kennedy was shot. The story, however, begins not in 1963, but in 2011. The protagonist is a tired, divorced, 35-year-old high school teacher, Jake Epping. His friend Al reveals that his diner is a portal back to September 9, 1958, and he enlists Jake to go back to that time, and to prevent Kennedy's assassination.

Jake tackles that mission, and the description of that task is gripping. It's not enough to simply stop Oswald. Jake has to decide if Oswald was acting alone, or if others were involved, and then plan accordingly.

But there's a lot of time between 1958 and 1963, so Jake settles into a new life, and we get to enjoy that as well. As much as I enjoyed the suspense of the Oswald story, I enjoyed even more watching Jake's days unfold. King writes with clarity and detail, breathing life into the pages and into his characters. I glommed onto those details, and came to care very much for Jake and his friends.

Here is a piece of writing that I particularly enjoyed. This is Jake's musing, after the death of a student in a car accident (p 367):
Here’s home: the smell of the sage and the way the hills flush orange with Indian blanket in the summer. The faint taste of tobacco on Sadie’s tongue and the squeak of the oiled wood floorboards in my homeroom. Ellie Dockerty caring enough to send us a message in the middle of the night, perhaps so we could get back to town undiscovered, probably just so we’d know. The nearly suffocating mixture of perfume and deodorant as Mrs. Knowles hugged me. Mike putting his arm—the one not buried in a cast—around me at the cemetery, then pressing his face against my shoulder until he could get himself under control again. The ugly red slash on Bobbi Jill’s face is home, too, and thinking that unless she had plastic surgery (which her family could not afford), it would leave a scar that would remind her for the rest of her life of how she had seen a boy from just down the road dead at the side of the road, his head mostly torn off his shoulders. Home is the black armband that Sadie wore, that I wore, that the whole faculty wore for a week after. And Al Stevens posting Vince’s photo in the window of his diner. And Jimmy LaDue’s tears as he stood up in front of the whole school and dedicated the undefeated season to Vince Knowles.

Other things, too. People saying howdy on the street, people giving me a wave from their cars, Al Stevens taking Sadie and me to the table at the back that he had started calling “our table,” playing cribbage on Friday afternoons in the teachers’ room with Danny Laverty for a penny a point, arguing with elderly Miss Mayer about who gave the better newscast, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, or Walter Cronkite. My street, my shotgun house, getting used to using a typewriter again. Having a best girl and getting S&H Green Stamps with my groceries and real butter on my movie popcorn.

Home is watching the moon rise over the open, sleeping land and having someone you can call to the window, so you can look together. Home is where you dance with others, and dancing is life.
This is a terrific book - not your typical Stephen King horror novel (although I've only read one of those, so maybe I can't say 'typical'), but comprising suspense mingled with glimpses of ordinary life. The ending is a bit muddled and quick, but was enough for me; the story itself made up for any roughness around those final edges. For me, it was a compelling and satisfying read.

1 comment:

  1. I have read nothing by King. Maybe it's time to start. ;-)