Stephen King is a writer who, it is fair to say, has periods in which the same sorts of characters interest him. There was, for instance, the period of time during which all of his books centred on women who were damaged in some way (Misery, Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder). Or the run of books that drew the Dark Tower into their wake. Or the run of books and short stories featuring writers as their central protagonists.
King appears to be enjoying another at the moment in that Revival has a couple of significant things in common with Dr Sleep, his recent sequel to The Shining. Like Dr Sleep, Revival is fronted by a young man who eventually becomes mired in substance abuse issues (just as King himself is alleged to have done); and just like Dr Sleep, Revival has a central villain who King is keen we see from more than just a villainous aspect (so we saw how weak and troubled the True Knot were, and we see how Revival‘s villain, a preacher man called Charles Jacobs, turns from the path of good to the path of evil) – and just like the True Knot this undercuts some of the drama of the book. But we’ll get to that shortly.
This is a novel rooted in the folksy Americana for which King is loved (if you come to it loving shorter works like ‘The Mist’ or ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’, you can expect to like a great deal of what you’ll find). It’s a small New England town, the early 60s and a young boy, our narrator Jamie Morton, is fashioning Skull Mountain out of a dirt pile at the back of his yard for his soldiers to meet their inevitable doom min when a shadow falls across him. This shadow is the new minister, Charles Jacobs, and the rest of the book will trace the damage created by that shadow. At first the two of them are thick as thieves, despite the foreshadowing that informs us that Jacobs becomes Morton’s ‘nemesis’.
A terribly tragedy alters the course of the minister’s life (or opens his eyes, depending on whether you believe his take or not), and the life of the town – in that for his last sermon he delivers a blistering tirade against the universe unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who hears it for years afterwards. At which point we skip forward. Young Jamie has become something of a session muso, although not altogether reliable one, and Jacobs has become a carney ride showboater, inviting the rubes (as he calls them) to be dazzled and awestruck by his feats of electrical magic and mayhem. Pretty soon the ‘portraits in electricity’ give way to promises of healing and Jamie is once more pulled back into Jacob’s orbit, an important witness, so it would seem, to Jacob’s experiments (which reminded this reader of David Cronenberg’s recent novel Consumed – if you read and like Revival, you could do a lot worse than make Consumed your next read) which themselves promise to lift the veil on the other side and so lay that whole dank mystery bare once and for all.
Pacing-wise, Revival doesn’t put a foot wrong. King knows what to do and when and he does it. Story-wise, it’s a better book than Dr Sleep, which we’re all happy about. It’s also on a par with recent outing Mr Mercedes in terms of keeping you reading. There are issues (like, for example, I am not convinced that Jacobs is any where near villainous enough – you retain enough sympathy for his terrible tragedy to understand more or less why he does what he does and you kind of agree when he takes issue with Jamie’s reckonings, offsetting the people he hurts against the people he helps; sometimes you long for the days of Greg Stillman, to this day one of the best villains I’ve ever read), but they don’t upset the applecart. And when the veil does drop at the end of the book, it creates a climax that is somewhat Great Expectations-y, in that no-one is leaving these pages safe in the warm embrace of a happy ending, which, you know, hey, we like. Obviously at this point in his career, seasoned fans are on the lookout for connections and similarities. There’s a lot of fun to be had in it. If you want another to keep your eye open for, the great reveal at the end of the book reminded this reader of the great reveal at the end of Under the Dome. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. It is as I say half the fun.
All told, we would chalk this one up as another one that we liked, even as we hungrily scan the horizon for whatever it is that comes next (insatiable we are for what that Stephen King does, insatiable).
Any Cop?: Whilst no-one wants a return to Dreamcatcher days, the darker caste of Revival does seem to indicate that King is gearing himself up for something truly horrible. And we say horrible in the nicest possible way. Revival whets our appetite for more!