Tag Archives: Time travel

An Acceptable Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle is a great storyteller so I saved her book, An Acceptable Time, for last. It’s a different kind of wrinkle in time. Polly has moved in with her grandparents, both distinguished scientists, who live in an old farmhouse in New England on land that has been inhabited for thousands of years. It’s a very different world from the Carolina coastal island where her marine biologist parents live with the rest of their large brood. Polly is meant to study sciences and prepare herself for college but empirical science intervenes. She encounters a strange man and a dog in the woods and then an acquaintance from her summer job in Greece. Later she sees a frantic young girl with a long dark braid in her grandparents’ pool house.

When a neighbor, a retired Protestant bishop, brings Ogam stones, with their ancient carved alphabet, to her grandparents’ house, Polly’s story catches his attention. Because he has seen the same people–and traveled back in time just as Polly accidentally has, and suspects there is a tesseract, a fold of time that opens worlds, and that the whole thing has something to do with Druids. It’s very interesting if you like all things Druid. L’Engle circles and circles back to build her case for this opening in time. The charming but completely self-absorbed summer acquaintance inserts himself into Polly’s life.  The scientists are skeptical but they can’t discount independent testimony entirely. Samhain, the Druid holy time when the veil between worlds is thin, is approaching and every attempt to protect Polly from some danger in the time slip, including sending her off on a date with the summer boy, fails.

As Polly becomes enmeshed in a three-thousand-year-old society on the land where the farm now sits, her life is threatened in horrible ways and her trust in people is severely tested. There are brave hearts and blackguards in this tale and Polly will deal with each as she tries to mend hostilities, fractured psyches and an environmental catastrophe that could mark her as a blood sacrifice. The story never condescends to the ancient people in the time travel and, in the end, Polly is no Pollyanna, although I was exasperated by her even-tempered treatment of idiots from time to time. But the science is fun and the adventure is lively and the worlds L’Engle builds are convincing ones.  An Acceptable Time was a good choice for a last book. And now to bed. No more late late late nights finishing the story of the day. Or not too many anyway.

An Acceptable Time (Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet)   Madeleine L’Engle | Farrar, Straus and Giroux   1989

11/22/63 – Stephen King

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I finished 11/22/63 at 4 a.m. It’s a doorstop of nearly 850 pages—and it’s very very good. I have admired Stephen King’s work, the excerpts and articles and the classic book about writing, but this was the first novel of his I’ve read. Can’t handle horror. Have no skin for it. Horror haunts me and creeps me out so I was never brave enough to tackle Carrie or The Shining or any of the mega-bestsellers that made King’s reputation. 11/22/63 is spooky and weird but it is also an addictive story that pulls you through from open to Afterword because you want to find out what happens and you know the people King has created and their fate is important to you.

It is possible to stop right there. That’s what books are supposed to do so you should read this one. (Maybe you could take it in large bites so you don’t have to stay up until 4 a.m. though.) I’m not quite ready to abandon the experience and move on so a few words about the world of 11/22/63 will allow me to relive it a bit. The fiction is a time travel and the present-day hero steps back into 1958 to begin his adventures. He is reluctant—the book does follow Campbell’s “hero’s journey” and you can sort that out as you read it. But he is intrigued and quickly hooked. A dying friend reveals the portal to 1958 and entrusts Jake Epping, a high school teacher, with his life’s mission: travel back in time and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas.

Epping takes a stack of 1950s silver certificate dollars, a fake i.d. and identity as George Amberson, and a sheaf of notes about Oswald’s life and the sporting events of the time and, eventually, assumes the challenge. But first he tests the theory by foiling a brutal domestic crime that affected the janitor of his high school—to see if the time travel actions really hold in the present. It works and, with enormous trepidation and curiosity, he sets out. Along the way, Epping encounters life in the age of sock hops, real Co’ Colas with cane sugar, people who say “Can I help you?” when you need help and don’t lock their front doors. He places unlikely bets that he wins to bankroll his exploits—when you know the outcome in advance this is not hard. He falls in love with and acquires a cool ragtop, a snub revolver and a fiancée and tries to remember to ditch 21st century slang along with his cell phone.

The magical world of the 50s is, in reality, not all that magical, as Epping finds out. People are violent, racist, ignorant, trapped in dirt and poverty, and die of physical illnesses for which there are not yet cures. People are also innocent, open, caring, in touch with an essential kindness, and accustomed to savoring life at a human, not a high-tech, pace. Epping likes it so much he considers staying once his task is complete. But the past is a living entity in King’s mind and it doesn’t relinquish its hold on history lightly. Malevolent things occur and the stakes rise sharply. Epping prevents some horrors from happening but other, equally vicious and ghastly acts exact an exorbitant price. Gain is offset by wrenching loss. Spooky stuff drives the plot and consumes Epping’s attention. Meals, clothes, guns, gas and rents are cheap but heroism will cost you everything.

There is incredible research in this novel and the world Epping visits is authentic and fascinating. It’s almost history—but it isn’t. It’s extraordinary Stephen King, which is, in some ways, even better.

11/22/63: A Novel   Stephen King | Scribner   2011