Revival – Stephen King

About the Book

A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs — including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties — addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate — Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers thatrevival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It’s a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

405 pages
Published on November 11, 2014
Published by Scribner
Author’s webpage
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I kind of hate to admit it, but I tend to always feel a bit underwhelmed by Stephen King. I just fundamentally don’t think that his writing style jives with me for some horrible reason. It makes no sense, really. The man is obviously a huge success; he does just about everything right. He’s an example for greatness. Even people who don’t read know who Stephen King is.

I think I’m crazy. That has to be it.

My monthly credit on Audible came calling, and I decided to give Revival a shot. I had very low expectations because, as I said above, King rarely does much of anything for me (aside from his Dark Tower series, which I love so much I can’t read past the forth book). However, the idea of religion mashed with a gothic tale all tied up nicely by Stephen King interested me. I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, and a lot less than I wanted to.

It’s the Stephen King Curse. I swear it exists.

Much of Revival feels like a guy telling me his life story, which really is exactly what it is, as there are references throughout the book that Jamie (the protagonist and narrator) is writing a book detailing his life story. And much of that life story is interesting, but kind of left me shrugging and wondering why Jamie’s life was more interesting than anyone else’s. Other than some noteworthy stories of life as a musician and some drug use, Jamie appears to be your average American. He had a good childhood, some good teenaged years, a youthful love affair, some heartbreak, and then his questionable middling years as a drug addled musician who hit rock bottom.

Nothing really terribly unique there.

That’s part of what makes Jamie’s story work so well, though. He is your average American. He’s really nothing incredibly impressive in many ways, and he frequently talks about how his talent on the guitar is measurable, but he’s fairly average and often gets out played by others he meets. His childhood was absolutely picturesque, in one of those small New England towns that King is famous for, and his time with drugs felt pretty realistic, considering his profession and the era he was living in. Jamie is, all things considered, pretty unassuming.

Charlie Jacobs, however, is the character that will make you feel King’s influence right from the start. He’s a nice man, passionate, educated, well read, easy to be around and easy to trust. He is obsessive about electricity, and after a tragic accident, it’s pretty obvious that his once perfect life is over and his fun obsession turns into something a bit darker. King sets Jacobs up artfully. He’s a character that’s hard to pin down, though it’s obvious from the start that all the “weird” elements in the novel will probably come from him. He’s the perfect fodder for King. He has the unassuming background, paired with a tragic accident, that leaves a rather mysterious future for readers to wonder about. Furthermore, the tie between Jacobs and Jamie is a perfect tool, as well. Tied together in an almost eerie way, it isn’t until the last part of the book that it becomes obvious just why Jacobs always made room for Jamie, though hints are dropped along the way.

The book doesn’t really start feeling like anything other than a memoir until the last third, when the threads of Jacobs and Jamie start getting tangled, twisted, and turn a bit gothic. The slow boil of Jacob’s relentless passion and research, mixed with Jamie’s obvious curiosity and disdain create an incredibly tense, atmospheric, edge-of-your-seat feeling. The book, already easy to read, will start whirling by at this point. It’ll be hard to put down. After writing this review and mulling it over a little bit, I decided that part of what makes Revival work so well is the fact that it is a slow burn novel. It feels like not much is happening, all the while King is weaving so much into the background, and when it all comes together, it’s like fireworks.

The climax is pretty incredible. I can see where the ending will divide readers into two camps – those who loved it, and those who hated it. As for me, the climax was one of the best parts. While I never really felt scared, weirded out, or terrified while reading any part of this book, the gothic and dark elements of the intense ending will probably surprise readers quite a bit. One thing is for sure – it is absolutely memorable. While things do start feeling a bit predictable at a certain point, King manages to both live up to those predictions, while absolutely surpassing them at the same time.

Revival is a rather daring book, as it deals with all those topics that people aren’t supposed to talk about at the dinner table. Religion, faith, life, death, passion and obsession feature heavily in this one, and they are dealt with in such a way that, if you’re a religious person, this might have the potential to offend you. It’s fairly brutal in its examination at some points, while at others it’s heartbreakingly raw and emotional. It’s truly a tug of war between two extremes, and I found that both fascinating and rather gothic with how dark the dissection of many of these themes were. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it certainly won’t be for everyone, and readers should be aware of that before they dive in.

So, is it worth reading?

Yes. I enjoyed it. I just didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I think my biggest problem with Stephen King’s books is that I pick them up wanting all of them to be as mind blowing as The Stand, and so far none of them compare, so I always feel a little let down. Revival, however, is different. It’s more psychological, and the gothic comes on slowly and subtly, engraining itself into the plot before you even realize it’s there. It’s raw and real, daring and bold, with a knock-your-socks-off ending that is sure to shock.

4/5 stars

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by David Morse. I’ll be honest with you, it took some time for me to warm up to his voice, but once I did it was easy to fall into his narration. Sometimes his voices sounded similar, which could be a little confusing, but otherwise it was smooth sailing. He isn’t my favorite narrator, and while I won’t actively seek out other novels read by him, I won’t not listen to books he’s read, either.

3 Responses

  • Astra

    I share the same feelings about King: I like some of his works but am generally underwhelmed. I usually stick with his short stories, and even then I liked his son’s collection even more.

    You’re not alone!

    • I tend to really like his son’s stuff, too. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill hit all my buttons. King rarely does that. However, I do love his Dark Tower series, and I’ve never read the short fiction by either author. I should. Do you recommend any?

      • Astra

        I should definitely read the Dark Tower series. I recommend Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts story collection. It’s a great mix of horror, SF, and “straight-up” stories. Two of the latter are my favorite stories: “Better Than Home” and “In the Rundown.” In the Rundown still disturbs me when I think about it.

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