from the it's-good-to-be-the-king dept.
If you're one to heed "TL;DR" then this is most definitely not the book for you, as the almost three inch thick paperback is well over a thousand pages long. That's not counting its afterword, which isn't part of the story, but about its writing.
I don't like Mr. King's chosen genre (but an author doesn't choose a genre, in my experience the genre chooses its author), but I'd loved the movie The Green Mile and a friend loaned me the book. After reading that book, when I heard he's written a time travel story I got out my credit card and visited Amazon; in my opinion, King is one of our time's best writers, even though I find horror distasteful.
This is another of those tales that blur the line between fantasy and science fiction. No time machine is produced or even discussed. The narrator of the story, written in the first person perspective, is a high school English teacher named Jake Epping. His friend Al Templeton has a house trailer that serves as a burger joint, "Al's Fatburgers" with impossibly cheap burgers. Townspeople suspect he's grinding up cats and dogs, and nickname it "Al's catburgers". It's popular among Jake's students. But Al had found a "rabbit hole" back to the year 1958 in the back corner of the trailer, and buying hamburger meat at 1958 prices using money he won back in the past betting on sports, games he knew the outcome of when he placed the bet.
You don't discover that it's science fiction until near the end of the book, when the identity of the "yellow card man" is revealed. This guy is always there when the man from now (or rather, 2011) enters 1958, and in fact it's always the exactly the same every time he goes back. Al has found that he can affect the present by changing the past, and decides to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
The trouble is, he catches lung cancer.
I think Mr. King deliberately blurred the line between fantasy and science fiction. There is nothing actually supernatural, but it feels supernatural. The story starts with Jake, a man who never cries (this is repeated through the story) being brought to tears while grading papers for his GED class. The assignment was "The one thing that changed my life," and the school's elderly janitor, Harry Dunning, a mildly retarded and physically lame man, had a story about how his drunken father murdered his family and almost the janitor with a hammer when Harry was a child.
After the poor old guy gets his GED, Jake takes him to celebrate at Al's. The next day Al calls him and asks him to see him at the diner. He's thirty pounds lighter and his hair has gone gray, and is coughing up blood; he was in lung cancer's final stage. He wanted to prevent Kennedy's assassination and enlists Jake to take over the job.
Jake wants to prevent Harry's family from being murdered, as well.
There is a lot of very graphic brutality, but of course, it's a story of an assassination, with attempted murders, and successful homicides. There is also some great humor. At one point in his first visit back, he's flummoxed by a phone booth and its phone with a rotary dial. The dime slips through, because it's a clad copper 2000 coin; they changed them in the 1960s.
It's also a love story, with the sweetest ending of any story I've ever read.
I've read an awful lot of books this year, and I think this is the best of the lot. I highly recommend this tome! Actually, it's my second favorite this century, right behind The Martian.