Stephen King
Stephen King

A Review of Stephen King’s “Revival”

“Revival” Book Cover
“Revival” Book Cover

Revival is a book by Stephen King that I almost didn’t read. First, I saw an interview with King shortly after the book came out and the gist of it was that he didn’t want to think about this novel, owing to how it ends. Now, if Stephen King is freaked out by his own writing, you know that you’re probably in for one scary book. Second, that ending — years later — was spoiled for me when I read an online list of the worst to best King novels ranked in order. That’ll teach me to read clickbait. Thus, Revival was a book that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to read — at least until I had forgotten about it. I’m glad I decided to tackle it, though, because it turns out that even though it meanders quite a bit, this might be one of the best King books that I’ve read. The reason? That ending. Usually, Stephen King kind of rushes his endings, I’ve found. Bag of Bones’ ending is nearly incomprehensible because it happens so fast. The same goes with Duma Key. Not this one, though. Everything about the ending here is reasonably paced and plotted. And it is quite creepy, though probably not quite as scary as I initially thought — I was spoiled, remember. All in all, I must heartily recommend this book, and here’s why:

Stephen King has always maintained that he’s the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries, but I think he diminishes his work by saying that. While it’s true that he’s prolific and being prolific means that you turn in the odd dud from time to time (The Tommyknockers, anyone?), what King does best is write about ordinary people living in small towns whose lives are upended when some sort of calamity strikes them. In that way, King is the master of the character study, and this proves to be true in Revival. This is a book where the plot is almost inconsequential. In fact, this is one of those books that work better the less you know about it (including how it ends). This is really a novel about the relationship between two people as they move from being friendly to being each other’s nemesis. On one hand, you have Jamie Morton, who is six years old in the 1960s and living in Maine when we are introduced to him. Over time, he grows up, learns to play the guitar, has sex for the first time, and becomes a strung-out junkie. The other character is Charles Jacobs, who is a young pastor when we meet him. However, when his wife and child die in a freak automobile accident, we see a transformation as he leaves the priesthood to become a carnival huckster and then something much more sinister as he experiments with unseen electricity. The two lives wind up intersecting at various points of the book.

You can tell that this was a very personal book for King to write, as it draws upon his accident with a vehicle when he was out walking, his own period of drug dependency, and even his own experience playing in a rock band full of famous people. (As an aside, King has lived such a rich and busy life that I sometimes wonder if his wife, the novelist Tabitha King, has had a hand in helping to churn out a book once or twice a year.) That’s what ultimately makes Revival so rewarding — as a bildungsroman, King is really drawing upon his own experience here, which may make how it ends even more terrifying for him. As usual, King is prone to what an editor friend of mine once called “verbal diarrhea,” and it is true that — even for a relatively short book clocking in at some 400 pages (short by King’s standards) — there is some material that might have been best left on the cutting room floor (the sections where Jacobs is out of Morton’s life, basically). However, the book is so enjoyable, and the characters are so engaging, that it’s hard to let this one go.

In all honesty, I wish that I hadn’t taken so long to read this book because, after a bit of a fallow period in the ’90s and double-oughts, this book, first published in 2014, is really a part of King’s renaissance of the 2010s and beyond. While it is true that King has since moved on beyond writing about the supernatural, it seems — his latest book, Billy Summers, is more of a straight-up crime novel — Revival is a sterling reminder of how good he can be when writing about tales of the fantastic. It’s also good to read a recent-ish novel of his that is set largely in Maine, because — as much as he’s stretched out and included more of the continental United States in many of his books since publishing this one — that’s what he writes about best, too. There’s something about his stories that are set in Maine that feed into a certain verisimilitude about the lives that people from underrepresented places that he has a knack for detailing. There’s certainly, too, a lot of reflection here on what it’s like to grow older and be staring death in the face with more and more certainty. In some ways, this novel is quite literary in its approach to writing about lives lived, especially as that ending does borrow quite extensively from Lovecraft, if not Hawthorne. All in all, Revival is classic King — not perfect, but well worth reading — and I haven’t said very much about that ending. That’s the way it should be, as I don’t want to spoil what is vintage King that absolutely should be read as soon as you get your hands on it.

Stephen King’s Revival was published by Scribner on November 11, 2014.

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You may also be interested in the following reviews: Stephen King’s The Institute, Stephen King’s If It Bleeds and Stephen King’s Billy Summers.

Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.