Revival by Stephen King

revival-stephenking-cover-UK-hodder-stoughton--staticWhen I think of Charles Jacobs–my fifth business, my change agent, my nemesis–I can’t bear to believe his presence in my life had anything to do with fate. It would mean that all these terrible things–these horrors–were meant to happen. If that is so, then there is no such thing as light, and our belief in it is a foolish illusion. If that is so, we live in darkness like animals in a burrow, or ants deep in their hill.

And not alone.

What it’s about: Throughout his life, Jamie Morton has repeatedly encountered the Reverend Charles Jacobs and been drawn into his mysterious experiments with electricity, but toward the end of Jacobs’ life he coerces Jamie into participating into the ultimate–and most dangerous–of experiments.

Why I liked it: Mr. King, you had me at hello. The opening three paragraphs of Revival are among the best openings to a novel that I have read in a long time, and I was immediately hooked. The book doesn’t disappoint. I feel safe in saying that this is the best of King’s novels in recent years. At 403 pages, it’s also one of his shortest books, and I think the shorter length showcases a maturity of storytelling.

I see many reviews complaining that this book isn’t scary enough or that not much happens, but these are the novel’s strengths. Revival is a slow burn, not a wild ride. King takes his time developing his characters, shadowing Jacobs and Jamie across both their lifetimes. Jamie is a compelling character, a musician who becomes addicted to heroin and then is able to start over again (with the help of Jacobs’ healing electricity). Jacobs is more a cipher; we are shown just enough of him to like him, to understand his pain and grief when he experiences a horrific tragedy, and to feel profoundly disturbed by him and his obsessions as he pops up again and again in Jamie’s life. Sure, there are no scares and very little gore for the bulk of the novel, but that lead-up only makes the ending even more powerful.

And if you think this book isn’t scary, I can only assume that you haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating your own mortality. This book didn’t make me jump or want to keep the lights on at night, no. But it really shook me, on an existential level. If the ideas expressed in Revival are the ideas that run through Mr. King’s mind when he can’t sleep at three in the morning, I can only be glad I’m not him. The way Revival has infected my brain is much more of an achievement than any cheap scare could ever be.

Finally, I have to congratulate Mr. King on this love letter to his influences in the horror genre. He has paid homage to and built on ideas introduced in Frankenstein, Moby Dick, the stories of Shirley Jackson and H.P. Lovecraft, and The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. All in all, this was a terrific, and profoundly disturbing, read.

You might like it if: You’re looking for a King novel that’s more psychologically scary than gory, you are a fan of Lovecraftian fiction, or you loved Frankenstein.

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