Stephen King whisks readers back to 1963 in a piece of time-traveling historical fiction that asks: What if JFK had survived?
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A trip down the pantry steps takes Jake from 2011 Lisbon Falls, Maine into Lisbon Falls on Sept. 9, 1958. Armed with $9,000 in period-vintage bills provided by Al, Jake discovers a country befogged by cigarette smoke, from restaurants to buses to the Steve McQueen TV ads for Viceroy. Homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism, not to mention blatant racism, run rampant.Skip to next paragraph
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Gas costs 20 cents per gallon. Hawaii has yet to become a state. At the drive-in, the double feature is tough to beat: Paul Newman in "The Long, Hot Summer" and Alfred Hitchcock’s "Vertigo" with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.
Food tastes better because it’s not processed to death. (Then again, there are downsides in the diet department, as Jake notes: “Probably a billion grams of cholesterol in every bite, but in 1958, nobody worries about that, which is restful.”) For $315 and a little haggling, Jake snaps up a 1954 Ford ragtop.
King enjoys the pop-culture ride, with nods to the Everly Brothers and the McGuire Sisters, among many others. For aficionados, the author slips in a delightful aside with a nifty cameo of characters and incidents from his 1986 novel “It” as Jake wanders through small-town Maine in the '50s.
In a world without cell phones and the Internet, Jakes faces constant fears of anachronism living in the past.
Just ordering a beer can be tricky. When Jake asks for a Miller Lite, the bartender replies, “Never heard of that one, but I’ve got High Life.”
Later, after migrating to Texas, Jake absent mindedly sings the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” in front of his girlfriend. When she asks where he heard such filth, Jake says the radio, an answer she can’t fathom in the still-staid early 1960s. It is still a time when Americans have no idea who Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are and, even if they did, they wouldn’t dare to hum along to lyrics about a “gin-soaked barroom queen.” At this point, the Beatles are still a few years away from arriving on Ed Sullivan’s stage.
Jake, of course, has advantages of his own, such as knowing the outcome to Kentucky Derbys, World Series (the Pirates’ 1960 stunner over the Yankees comes in handy), and other sporting events of his newfound present-day.
Al spent several years in pursuit of Oswald, traveling to Texas, taking notes on what he found. Ravaged by cancer, Al kills himself, leaving the fate of JFK and Oswald in Jake’s shaky hands.