Through the years, the work of Stephen King has spotlighted its share of religious characters. King’s newest novel Revival, released November 2014, manages to take a much more mature and honest approach to this topic than his previous work. It is at its core a story about faith and truth, and the dangerous journey that some people take in the discovery of both.
As a young child in Maine, Jamie Morton befriends the new town preacher, Pastor Charlie Jacobs. Jacobs has an interest in electricity and shows Jamie the amazing things he can do with it. But after a terrible tragedy, Jacobs loses his faith and disappears from Jamie’s life – until fate seems to bring them together again when Jamie needs him most. Jacobs has continued his experiments with electricity, an obsession that has consumed his life and caused him to do terrible things in the pursuit of a truth no one has come close to.
I was most excited for Revival because King himself called it a “straight ahead horror novel” and one that was even “too scary” for him. I wonder if I read the same story that he was talking about. Though the novel does explore some dark themes and takes our characters to some dark places, to me it was little more than slightly above average in its effectiveness. The entire novel is a lead up to the last 50 pages – something that was both enjoyable because of the mystery and anticipation, and annoying at the same time. Even with all the little revelations throughout the course of the tome, the reader is never really sure where the story is going or what kind of ending we are heading toward. This may be frustrating for some impatient readers, who may also be disappointed by the novel’s quick conclusion.One thing for which I have always respected King was his lack of fear about doing horrible things to his characters, especially the ones you love. He half-succeeds at this in Revival with the two main characters, Jamie and Charlie. Charlie goes through the biggest transformation in the novel, starting as a character whom the reader respects and empathizes with, and ending as someone who is the complete opposite – a person that even Jamie can’t stand to be around. Jamie himself is an average guy who has dealt with his fair share of demons. Much of it reminded me of King’s own life experiences with drug addiction and his love of music. So, King obviously put a lot of himself into the character. Letting Charlie help Jamie with his addiction proves to be a choice that haunts him the rest of his life, but even though it sounds heartless and wrong, I don’t believe Jamie suffered enough. As he is our narrator, maybe part of this was out of necessity for the storytelling, but King doesn’t seem to treat him the same as other characters, sparing him in places where others who have gone through the same thing seem to suffer much more.
The novel spoke to me the most as being one about faith and truth, two very opposing ideas. Can one still hold on to their faith even after something terrible has happened? Is knowing the truth really any better than just having faith that something might be true? Charlie’s arc speaks to the power of both of these ideals, and by the end, neither one of them seems to be better than the other. It’s not very comforting, but perhaps King is saying that that’s just the way it has to be, if only for our own sanity.
Revival tells an interesting story and explores a highly debatable issue – I just wish it hadn’t taken King so long to bring us there. Too much of the novel is spent waiting for something to happen, or waiting to find out just what this bigger issue that we are dealing with is, and that was at times a major turn-off. The big conclusion involves a character that is brand-new to the story, and it would have been much more emotional and effective if it had been someone that the reader was already familiar with and liked.
However, Revival retains King’s signature touch. His familiar style is still a joy to read, no matter the story he is telling, and he still knows how to develop and expand a riveting relationship between two people. Just don’t buy too much into the hype of this being a truly scary or horrifying novel because it is sadly neither.