Stephen King’s real horror ‘Revival’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

t1208ruey-king_feat3_1It takes a master of horror like Stephen King to take an ordinary, innocuous sentence like “something happened” and turn it into an intricate, effective device of enduring fear. After reading “Revival: A Novel” (Scribner, New York, 2014, 403 pages), you’ll never think the same way about that sentence.


After writing over 50 books, King still tries to infuse something new into his work (this is, after all, a man who makes cars, dogs and fans scary), and that is the case with “Revival,” which bristles with a different kind of frightener. The book’s protagonist and narrator, Jamie Morton, meets the Rev. Charles Jacobs when Morton is just 6. But terrible things happen, the kind that happens in the real world—bad things to good people—and Morton, later on a broken-down, drug-addicted professional guitar player, keeps bumping into Jacobs —changed and perhaps not for the better—over and over again.


“When 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.”


Jacobs, it turns out, is obsessed with something called “the secret electricity,” experimenting with people—Jamie included —whenever he can in the guise of healing. Try as he might, Morton can’t get away from the eccentric scientist. And it turns out, there is a reason for that. “Revival” takes what appears to be small lives and then…


King plays a little bit of word wonder here, exploring the different possible meanings of “revival.” Does he mean being revived? Is it a new version of something? Is it a new spiritual or religious epiphany? Or something else altogether? King also puts a very personal spin on “Revival” not seen before in his novels. Aside from the inevitable Maine setting, “Revival” recalls King’s obvious interest in rock music and his well-documented problems with substance abuse. King also evokes the sweetness of first love and the terror of growing old.


“Revival” starts off deliberate and authentic, seemingly just the record of an ordinary guy growing up. But it’s not. There is a tone, a humming sound, that builds within the novel’s pages, fluctuating but never completely going away, that builds up to a crescendo. King usually tries scaring his readers right from the get-go and keeps scaring them.


“Revival” is different, and so may not work for those looking for conventional Stephen King trickery. It doesn’t mean “Revival” is lame. The real horror doesn’t begin until page 350 but then, in many ways, never goes away. Bad things happen and keep happening. There is something profoundly, deeply unsettling in these last 50 pages, even for King’s novels.


King asks some deep and philosophical questions at that point, taking what will most likely be a very controversial and divisive stand as far as the events of “Revival” are concerned. Your mileage will probably vary on where you stand regarding this particular subject, but King certainly knows how to push readers’ panic buttons.


When you get through there, you will see that “Revival” is essentially King’s love letter to the genre and its progenitors. There are nods to these classic elements all throughout “Revival” if you know where to look. “Revival” is then revealed to be a canny mashup of those telltale signs. The names are on the dedication page: Shelley, Stoker, Lovecraft, Straub, among others. With the concentrated dose of bone-deep terror in “Revival,” Stephen King can easily add his name to that exalted, terrifying list.


Available in hardcover from National Book Store.

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