Stephen King himself described his much-awaited new novel, Revival, as a “nasty, dark piece of work,” claiming, “It’s too scary. I don’t even want to think about that book anymore.” He said much the same about his classic novel Pet Sematary, which he consistently names (until now, perhaps?) as the scariest book he has ever written. Even though he’s talking about his own book, the master of horror calling something “too scary” sets up quite a bit of expectation.
I like to think I’m something of a King connoisseur (although this is a claim I might not be qualified to make yet, seeing as I haven’t made my way through the Dark Tower series), so believe me when I say I know scary. I’ve read Pet Sematary three or four times, and while on the surface it’s not much more than a spooky story, underneath it’s a deeply disturbing statement about the nature of life and death. Revival is much the same, but, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t nearly live up to the terror that Pet Sematary (as well as plenty other, earlier King novels) struck into my heart.
That’s not to say Revival isn’t good, surely. The story of Jamie Morton and his old pastor, Charles Jacobs, is sufficiently dark and twisty, and quite enjoyable. (I did manage to finish it in less than 24 hours, after all, and certainly would have finished sooner if I hadn’t had a headache last night.) Jamie’s story spans five decades; it begins one fateful day when Jamie is six, playing in his yard, and a shadow falls over him. This shadow, of course, belongs to the young Charles Jacobs, who has just arrived in town to become Harlow, Maine’s new pastor.
Jacobs and his young family are soon beloved by almost everyone in the small town. Jacobs, young, handsome, and intelligent, is fascinated by the power of electricity and not only drills his youth group students in Bible verses but also teaches them the wonders of science. All of Harlow’s boys—and many of the men—are in love with the young, beautiful Mrs. Jacobs. And their son, Morrie, is beloved by all the other children in the town. Jacobs even appears to miraculously heal one of Jamie’s brothers after a ski accident. But when tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, Charles Jacobs takes to the pulpit to renounce his faith, and soon leaves the town alone and in disgrace.
Almost 20 years later, Jamie Morton wakes up alone and aching in a run-down Tulsa motel room, a heroin junkie badly in need of a fix. Abandoned by his band for his increasingly flaky ways, he wanders over to the small amusement park adjacent to the state fair in search of a hookup. To his shock, he comes across Jacobs, running a carny booth called Portraits in Lightning. Jacobs’s fascination with what he calls the “secret electricity” has only increased in the years since he lost his wife and son, and he soon performs another miraculous cure, ridding Jamie of his heroin addiction in a single afternoon.
After another few decades, Jamie discovers that Jacobs, now going by the name “Pastor Danny,” has set up a traveling religious “Revival” show in which he claims to heal ailments from arthritis to cancerous tumors to muscular dystrophy. But Jamie, healed from addiction over 20 years ago, knows that the seemingly miraculous treatment comes at a price—a price that is steeper for some than for others. Jamie is determined to convince Jacobs to give up his “healing,” until he discovers that the mechanism Jacobs uses for healing is only a means to an end; one that is more chilling than Jamie could ever have imagined.
As always, King delivers a great story. Revival certainly seems to indicate a return to his classic style—it was very evocative, I thought, of Firestarter and The Dead Zone, particularly theme-wise. However, like I mentioned earlier, I think the “terror” of Revival was blown rather out of proportion, both by King himself and by some early reviews I read. It was plenty haunting, but I was ready to hold onto my hat starting at page 350 and I was not nearly as blown away as I had expected to be. Maybe I need a reread—after all, it took until about my third reading of Pet Sematary until it really impacted me the way I believe it was intended—but my initial assessment is this: Revival is good, but not great; scary, but not petrifying; disturbing, but not nearly on the level of some of his other, earlier novels. That being said, it’s still definitely worth a read, if only because it comes from the Master of Horror himself.
What do you think? Did you find Revival as scary as King seems to? Or did you feel your expectations were raised beyond what Revival could deliver? Let me know in the comments!by