Book Review: Revival, by Stephen King

revival.jpgFor more than thirty years, I’ve been fascinated by Stephen King’s unique realism. With stories that sometimes reach extremes of horror and fantasy, his novels are nevertheless grounded in reality. So much so, often, that it’s hard to not identify with their characters. In Revival, King’s latest horror novel (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), he depicts the childhood and teenage years of one of the main characters, Jamie Morton, so perfectly that I felt as though parts of it were my own life experiences. (Some of them were, in fact; especially the parts about playing guitar.)

Morton meets a new Methodist preacher, Charles Jacobs, when he is six, and this minister becomes his “fifth business.” As King says, “In the movies this sort of character is known as the fifth business, or the change agent.” Jacobs will be linked to Morton for the next 55 years, and this novel tells the tale of the links between them.

Jacobs is a sort of scientific dabbler. He plays with electricity, and sees the occult power of electricity as the key to the universe. He gives up on god early in his career, after a tragedy strikes, and sets out as a carny, then later a traveling preacher, building a name for himself healing people. But the first person he healed was Jamie Morton’s brother Connie, and, somehow, this event links the two men.

As Jacobs wanders in his desert, Morton does as well, playing rhythm guitar for second-rate bands, and developing a jones that will end that career. Morton meets Jacobs again at the sideshow of a state fair, and sees him perform a “miracle,” before getting help from him to resolve some of his own problems.

They again go their separate ways, but are always linked by others. As the novel slowly develops, it is more of a curiously muted story of a fallen priest and the people he has healed, but in the end, Morton and Jacobs end up together, in a horrific scene that turns the tone of the book from mild science fiction to Lovecraftian horror.

In a Rolling Stone interview, King said that religion is “a very dangerous tool that’s been misused by a lot of people.” And in this book, he raises that issue several times, as characters question the use of religion as a way to simply dupe people. And, in the end, the evil that the two characters discover goes far beyond that of religion, causing Morton to question his very existence.

It’s hard to say much about this book without spoiling the plot. You’ll read more than 300 pages and wonder when the horror is coming, but when it hits, in the last 30 pages, you’ll realize how important the slow build-up was to the denouement of the story. This is one of King’s most interesting novels in years.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Revival, by Stephen King

  1. I haven’t read King in many years, but from what I remember, he’s an immensely good writer. Not sure if I’ll try this one or not, but you’ve definitely put it on my radar screen, Kirk.

    Now if he only understood Room 237 a bit better…

    (On a complete tangent, finally got around to reading Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, which I highly recommend. After a career of writing somewhat-challenging-to-read, but still very worthwhile novels, his last two novels have been immensely reader-friendly. Dude’s mellowing in his old age. Even with your anti-highbrow tastes, I can’t imagine you not loving Inherent Vice, Kirk. It’s right up your alley. And there’s a new Denis Johnson novel out! So, I won’t get around to really considering the King until I finish that.)

    • I have tried to read many Pynchon novels. I did read V, started Gravity’s rainbow at least three times, read part of Mason & Dixon, and about half of Against the Day. I keep wanting to like his books but fail.

      I’ve never read Denis Johnson.

      Am now reading Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things…

      • “I have tried to read many Pynchon novels. I did read V, started Gravity’s rainbow at least three times, read part of Mason & Dixon, and about half of Against the Day. I keep wanting to like his books but fail.”

        Yeah. I genuinely understand. Took me a looooong time to find my way into Gravity’s Rainbow, though once I finally got there, I ended up loving it. And I also only read about half of Against the Day, and I don’t feel bad about that in the least.

        But, like I say, his last two novels are much more reader-friendly than all of his earlier work, especially Inherent Vice, which should also appeal to you on a subject matter basis.

        “I’ve never read Denis Johnson.”

        He’s a highbrow, but still quite readable. I’d recommend starting with his perfect short period novella Train Dreams to see if you like his style. If you do, it’s all good stuff.

        “Am now reading Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things”

        Have never read Faber, but have heard enough good things for a long enough period of time that he’s made it onto my list. My enjoyment of the film version of Under the Skin has also helped pique my interest, even though that’s generally a bad way of picking books or authors…

  2. I haven’t read King in many years, but from what I remember, he’s an immensely good writer. Not sure if I’ll try this one or not, but you’ve definitely put it on my radar screen, Kirk.

    Now if he only understood Room 237 a bit better…

    (On a complete tangent, finally got around to reading Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, which I highly recommend. After a career of writing somewhat-challenging-to-read, but still very worthwhile novels, his last two novels have been immensely reader-friendly. Dude’s mellowing in his old age. Even with your anti-highbrow tastes, I can’t imagine you not loving Inherent Vice, Kirk. It’s right up your alley. And there’s a new Denis Johnson novel out! So, I won’t get around to really considering the King until I finish that.)

    • I have tried to read many Pynchon novels. I did read V, started Gravity’s rainbow at least three times, read part of Mason & Dixon, and about half of Against the Day. I keep wanting to like his books but fail.

      I’ve never read Denis Johnson.

      Am now reading Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things…

      • “I have tried to read many Pynchon novels. I did read V, started Gravity’s rainbow at least three times, read part of Mason & Dixon, and about half of Against the Day. I keep wanting to like his books but fail.”

        Yeah. I genuinely understand. Took me a looooong time to find my way into Gravity’s Rainbow, though once I finally got there, I ended up loving it. And I also only read about half of Against the Day, and I don’t feel bad about that in the least.

        But, like I say, his last two novels are much more reader-friendly than all of his earlier work, especially Inherent Vice, which should also appeal to you on a subject matter basis.

        “I’ve never read Denis Johnson.”

        He’s a highbrow, but still quite readable. I’d recommend starting with his perfect short period novella Train Dreams to see if you like his style. If you do, it’s all good stuff.

        “Am now reading Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things”

        Have never read Faber, but have heard enough good things for a long enough period of time that he’s made it onto my list. My enjoyment of the film version of Under the Skin has also helped pique my interest, even though that’s generally a bad way of picking books or authors…

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