Monday, November 17, 2014

Stephen King's Revival

Scribner, 2014
403 pp


" may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means."
My quotation is not from Revival, but rather from Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan," * a story that seems to have been an influence on King in the writing of this book.  It also influenced HP Lovecraft, whose influence comes shining through here in no small way.

Let me just get this out of the way. Revival is not going to appear on my personal favorites list for the year. It's a very s--l--o--w  buildup of a story to an ending that well, frankly, has been done before. The scenario is very different, but I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have.    It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact when the ending comes around.

Jamie Morton,  a man in his early sixties, recounts his life story in this book, one that first took a strange turn when he met the Reverend Charles Jacobs at the age of six in 1962.   Jacobs, as Morton notes, is his "fifth business,"  "the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis."  Jacobs has an odd hobby, working with electricity, and his "youth talks" with the kids of the Methodist Youth Fellowship often involved lessons where he used electricity or couched his lectures in electro-speak to illustrate the points he was trying to make.  He was very well liked among the congregation, swelling its numbers to peak levels, and really made an impression when he used an electrical device to help bring back the voice of Jamie's brother Con after an accident that left him mute. All is well until the fateful day that the reverend's wife and little boy went out in their car and were killed.  Afterwards, in his grief,  Jacobs goes to the pulpit where he began  "edging into blasphemy" by renouncing doctrine on the afterlife and by renouncing religion in general as the
"theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so --pardon the pun--so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist." 
The reverend is fired, of course, and leaves town, but it's not the last time Jamie sees him.  Over the next several years, he will cross and recross paths  with Jacobs, and a connection is made that will ultimately change Jamie's life and his understanding of all that he has come to know as reality.

There is a veritable slew of literary influence to be found woven throughout this book -- Machen and Lovecraft are the big ones  I've mentioned, but you'll also find in Jacobs a bit of Captain Ahab going after his white whale.  Mary  Shelley is definitely represented here (in more ways than one), as is M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, and I'm sure there are a few others that I've missed.   There are also, as in many books by this author, bits and pieces of King's own life (and other work) to be found here. As usual, he starts out in small-town America, where the people in the community are your neighbors in the true sense of the word, making everything seem so normal and easygoing that you just can't wait to see what's going to provide the catalyst that changes everything. He also continues his theme of innocence lost, here with a major twist.  When King is writing on religion and the whole spectacle of  the religious-healing-tent-revival he is amazing, making the reader feel like he/she is right there in the crowd,  and he sort of captures my own ideas on the topic. And there's one  more thing:  in one sense, you could try to understand this novel as a reflection on curiosity regarding what might lie on the other side -- and the perils of trying to comprehend forces beyond our understanding.  But on the flip side --  it's so slow -- by page 299 I was thinking that ""maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get somewhere in this book. One can always hope."  And frankly, I just didn't feel like the payoff was worth wading through Jamie Morton's entire life story.  I see so many ways that this book could have been better, but oh well. 

Perusing the normal book-related websites, it seems that people just can't get enough of this book, and the ratings are definitely high.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Revival jetting  into the top ranks of the NYT bestseller list soon, but for me, I'm doing that hand thing that means iffy.

 *from Machen in S.T. Joshi (ed) The Three Impostors and Other Stories: Vol. I of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen (Chaosium, 2000).