stephen king - revivalStephen King
Scribner
2014

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing in the yard with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Reverend 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 barband 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 pack beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that “revival” has many meanings.

It’s rather fascinating at times to see how prolific genre-bending writer Stephen King has been since announcing over a decade ago that he was retiring from writing after finishing up the last of the Dark Tower series of novels. This was back in 2002. Not that I’m complaining; when I first read that he was done with writing (mostly stemming from that infamous accident where he was hit by what can only be described as a dumbass) I was morose, yes. But as a writer with delusions of adequacy, I can understand why he didn’t entirely quit his craft, even though he could have, and quite comfortably to boot. Writers just have to write. And turns out, he still has stories to tell. Like this recent foray into urban fantasy horror: Revival.

Revival is a spine-tingling tale involving small-town faith, doubt, and releasing eldritch horrors by way of electro shock treatment. Well, something like that. The story spans a good 50 years, starting with a young Jamie Morton meeting the new minister of their Methodist church, the fresh-faced Charles Jacobs. The good Rev. Jacobs–along with his wife and toddler son–captures the heart of the small Maine town, and soon energizes the sleepy church, both the adults and the youth. Soon, though, Mrs. Jacobs and their little boy die in a horrible accident, prompting Charles Jacobs to take a good, hard look at his faith during the shock and grieving process, where he comes to the conclusion that either there is not God, or He at least is a cruel jerk. This is something that touches little Jamie rather profoundly. Time passes, and a grown-up Jamie is a passable rhythm guitar player, playing in a series of bar bands and sporting a rather nasty drug habit. After being dumped by the country band he was in (that was probably a blessing in disguise, but I digress), he runs into the former Reverend Jacobs working the carnival circuit, presenting a rather dazzling lightning show to an enraptured crowd. Jacobs helps Jamie with kicking the monkey off of his back, then they don’t meet up again until years later, when he’s working as a very successful and talented recording producer in Colorado. A series of incidents occur that leads Jamie to once again seek out his old mentor, where he finds that the now old man not only never got over the death of his wife and son, but developed one doozy of an obsession with trying to find them in the great beyond in a manner that didn’t involve dying himself. And that’s when things get weird.

Revival was one of those books where the title and the juxtaposition of the cover art grabbed my attention and made me curious. It’s been a while since any kind of book did that, let alone a Stephen King book. The blurb on the inner dust cover flap further seeded my interest in reading it, enough so that I bought the hardcover a couple of weeks later, instead of waiting for the mass market paperback to come out. Mind you, I did use a gift card I got for Christmas to a bookstore, at which time the book itself was marked down considerably from the original cover price, but still. I think the last time I couldn’t wait for the paperback release was with his son’s novel, NOS4A2. Irony, I think.

The subject of loss of faith and questioning God’s “goodness” was handled rather well, and in a relatively realistic way. Well, as realistic as one can get with a horror novel, anyway. I’ve had my fair share of loss and have had periods of questioning my faith, but it never really occurred to me to try and Tesla my way past the veil of the space/time continuum. I deliberately left out the most chilling part of this novel, mind you, as the build-up takes the entire span of the book, and the payoff is one of the more satisfying I’ve read this side of a Robert Bloch story.

As both a fan of Stephen King and the urban dark fantasy/horror genre in general, Revival is one of the better ones I’ve read in recent times. I would recommend it.

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