Revival – Stephen King

Where do I start with King’s latest novel?  Did I enjoy it?

Meh.  It felt like a short story or novella that was forced to be a novel, relatively short by King’s standards. Let’s begin with the story synopsis:

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

Maybe it was the fact that, based on King’s earlier works, we can see the ending coming a mile away.  In writing parlance, it’s called telegraphing.  

*****NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD*****

The moment that Jacobs cures Jamie’s brother of what is likely to be a permanent loss of voice, we’re reminded of Pet Sematary. Jacobs, who at that time is the pastor at the local church, is obsessed by electricity.  This is exemplified again and again.  To the point where we want to say, “Okay! Okay! We get it!  Electricity is a major plot point!”  It’s not like King to belabor a major plot line like he does here.  It felt to me like we, the readers, were too dumb to get it, so he erected numerous neon signs to make sure nothing got missed.  So Jacobs uses a homemade device that runs on what he calls “secret electricity” that, through the way it’s told, we might believe that it’s some form of energy that is derived directly from God.  So in this instance, Jacobs becomes god-like.  And from the thousands of stories of this kind, we already know several things.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  

In this case, “power” can be defined as “electricity.” See where we’re going with this?   

So then the narrative takes a few requisite horrific twists and turns, yet we still perceive that obvious ending coming our way, subtle as a freight train.  Jamie spends the next five decades becoming a musician, a heroin addict, and ultimately, a victim of his own life.  Okay, we’re on board with that.  However, Jacobs keeps appearing in strange (and seemingly contrived) ways.  And each time, he seems a bit more mad, as in mad scientist mad.  He’s a carnival side show at one point, then an evangelistic “healer,” still using that “special electricity” that was pounded into our heads from the beginning.

I was put in mind of Church, the cat from Pet Sematary.  Substitute “special electricity” for the hallowed ground that appears to resurrect animals and humans, and you have basically the entire plot from 1984.

As the story totters toward its conclusion, Jamie and Jacobs are reconnected, and we now enter a scene that seems pretty much plagiarized directly from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  There are even two new characters introduced here, one named “Mary” (as in Shelley) and another named “Victor” (as in Frankenstein).  Yes, the mad scientist (Jacobs) is going to attempt to resurrect one of his “patients” using lightning.  Of course it goes horribly wrong, but we knew that already.  Then we’re treated to the ending scenes from King’s “It,” in which an otherworldly creature is awakened and wreaks havoc in the lives of our characters.

King’s writing is definitely engaging here.  He still is the best at building characters and telling a story.  He could probably write the Terms & Conditions for iTunes and make it interesting.

Revival was a case of — for me at least, “Well, I’ve read it this far.  Might as well see where it goes.”  Because I always hold out hope that a writer, especially one of King’s caliber, will surprise me.  Unfortunately, this was a journey through territory that was exhaustingly familiar, that not even King’s prowess as a master storyteller could fix.  This was one time when I stopped reading at the climax.  The denouement went on for another 10 or 20 pages, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted it to be over.  And that’s never a good thing for a reader to experience.

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