Revival is one of the most original books I have ever read–a strange statement about a book, which King admits was inspired and influenced by some of his favorite horror authors. Among these are Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, and Mary Shelley. Still, I’ve read a lot of King, and this one seemed particularly unique. Although unlike his novels, it did seem rather like a return to his earlier writing in a way. But I’ll get to that. First, a synopsis.
Revival (a brilliant and apt title, by the way) opens with a reflection of the “cast” of characters that make up a person’s life and a bleak foreshadowing of the impact of Reverend Charles Daniel Jacobs, the “fifth business” or “change agent” in the fifty-some year span of the life of our protagonist, Jamie Morton. Already I know this book is going to deal with some heavy issues.
The next scene is strangely creepy even though nothing unusual or bad really happens, but that is how King plays this tale—very subtle, at least until the last fifty pages of the book. Anyway, the scene opens with six-year old Jamie playing with his toy soldiers in the dirt when a shadow falls over him in the form of Reverend Charles Jacobs. I remember being tense through this scene, expecting something to happen, but Jacobs is a just a kind and warm person.
From this point on, we get to see Jamie grow up. We experience his childhood problems with siblings, school, we see his first kiss, watch him discover his passion for music, agonize over his descent into drug addiction, and breathe a sigh of relief when he is cured of it. Jacobs, on the other hand, we see only through Jamie’s eyes: a kind and understanding pastor, a friend, a healer, a loving and devoted husband and father—until a tragic and senseless car accident gruesomely takes the lives of his wife and young son. But that’s one of the first themes explored in this novel. Aren’t tragic accidents always senseless? I mean, when do they ever make sense? Reverend Jacobs cannot make sense of it either, and as a result, he loses his faith and takes Jamie’s along with it, then turns full-time to his obsessive hobby of experimenting with electricity.
Without going into too much detail, time goes by and Jamie meets up with the reverend as an adult with a slightly less than positive result. At this point in the story “something happens,” tying Jamie irrevocably to Jacobs. The “something happened” repeated throughout the story was another inexplicably creepy device King brilliantly used.
Later Reverend Jacobs becomes an atypical traveling healer, complete with a revival tent and offering plate, furthering the not-so-subtle but oh-so-apt commentary on organized religion. Jacobs serendipitously meets up with Jamie several times throughout his life, each time having a more negative effect. Our opinion of Jacobs, sadly, spirals downward along with Jamie’s feelings for the pastor until, finally, the friendship deteriorates into complete loathing and disgust, at least on Jamie’s side.
The first three hundred and fifty pages of this novel are fresh, descriptive, and thought-provoking. The characters are realistic and well-developed. I loved Jamie–and Jacobs, which made me feel strangely like I was betrayed by the reverend as much as Jamie was. However, the next fifty pages descends into a parody-like ridiculousness that made me feel like I was watching an old cartoon version of Frankenstein.
Throughout the novel, the allusions to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus were obvious. The object of Jacobs’ last experiment is named Mary Fay, daughter of Franklin Fay and Janice Shelley. She has a son named Victor (as in Victor Frankenstein), he is obsessed with power, particularly electricity and with what happens to us when we die. You don’t have to be a brain donor to predict what’s going to happen next.
Although I certainly appreciate King’s attempt to pay homage to Shelley’s Frankenstein, it was so over-the-top that I could not help picturing one of the old movie versions of it complete with Victor Frankenstein screaming, “It’s alive!” while I read. Still, I knew to expect the classic horror to appear sometime in the book. In fact, I looked forward to it, just to be disappointed in its cartoonish nature—but possibly, that is just a matter of taste. After all, King was a fan of the graphic novel, so maybe this was on purpose. He is such a brilliant writer; it likely was intentional. The contrast between the realistic and effective social and religious criticism and the fantastically surreal ravings of a mad scientist were a little disorienting, but perhaps, that was the point. My real disappointment lay elsewhere.
My only true disappointment in this novel was in the last few pages. I guess I didn’t expect it to end on such a depressing note, but here I am complaining about being surprised when a moment ago I complained of guessing the end. I’ve been lulled into believing that King usually has a hopeful ending to his novels with good winning out over evil, at least for the moment. But this novel is much more like some of his early short stories that end in complete and utter despair. The most horrifying part of this novel is when all hope is dead, and Jamie realizes that there is something much worse than nothing at the end of this life, something inescapable and that salvation does not exist.
I’m not really a happy-ending kind of girl, but the depth of darkness at the end of this novel left me disturbed, and not in a fun horror kind of way, but in a hopeless, bitter kind of way. But maybe that’s the true mark of horror, being forced to face the ultimate fear—that there may be something even worse than the unknown. 4 out of 5 stars.—Christina Knowles