Thank God, it’s not another thriller.
With “Revival”, Stephen King leaves his horribly cliché take on the thriller genre for now and returns to the genre he himself has created: the metaphysical-realist social novel.
“Revival” tells the story of a son of Maine, Jamie Morton, who grows up in a big, idyllic family, later loses his shit as a musician and almost dies from drug abuse. He is saved by an old acquaintance, the former clergyman Charles Jacobs, who used to be, for a short while, anyhow, the reverend of Jamie’s hometown. Until his wife and son die in a car accident and he loses all faith, to be precise. In a notorious speech that thoroughly shocks the good, pious folk of Harlow , he declares: “Religion is 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.” Since you cannot say this to a devout congregation and expect to keep your job, Jacobs leaves Harlow and only meets Jamie again years later, working at a state fair in Oklahoma. There, he saves him from his addiction by using his new personal passion that has replaced his religious faith completely since the demise of his family: electricity.
The plot now concentrates for a while on Jamie, who slowly manages to regain stability by obtaining a decent, stable job working in a production studio. About twenty years later, he hears about his old acquaintance again, who has become a high-earning televangelist, claiming to be able to cure people through the hand of God. Jamie, becoming suspicious, starts researching into this and discovers that many of the healed later suffer from terrible after effects. Effects he himself experienced, too. He goes to confront Jacobs, who admits that he doesn’t care about the people, only about an experiment he is conducting. After making sure that the healing shows have stopped, Jamie returns to his work. Another few years later , however, he meets Jacobs again, and is forced by him to assist him in the finale of his life-long research into what lies behind the veil of death.
In a final scene reminiscent of Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft, the veil gets lifted. And the promise, which King at times fails to keep, is fully delivered: The terror this time is truly, truly horrible.
I feel like the recent work of Stephen King is getting talkier by the book. Anyone who has read a handful of King novels knows that his narrators and characters tend to say, explain, and describe way more than necessary, as if their creator didn’t trust his readers to make the right connections. The contrast between early works like “Salem’s Lot” and novels like “Mr. Mercedes” is pretty stark in this regard.
Another thing that annoys me more and more about King’s fiction is that it’s loaded with clichés. His character constellations and relationships often seem imported from Hollywood’s arsenal of generic, easy cultural configurations. Take for example Jamie Morton, the protagonist of the book. He’s the washed-up second-rate musician with a severe heroin addiction. Then there’s the computer nerd, a type that I’ve so far counted in two of King’s recent books, the other one being “Mr. Mercedes.” Both of these IT geniuses are unsurprisingly young, but also black. I don’t know why King decided to make them black, but it seems like a deliberate choice to shake things up a little. That would be fine if he didn’t repeat this pattern. At least in this book, Bree doesn’t talk in an annoying self-ironic way in AAVE, which was pretty cringe-worthy in “Mr.M.”. King also is quick to recycle elements of his previous book. Of course, Old Jamie Morton and the girl land in bed together, just as in Mr. Mercedes the overweight, old detective and the younger woman do. It’s really quite annoying.
Lastly, I really don’t get why people keep calling King’s work thrilling, or nail-biting, or something of the sort. For the most part, his books are really slow-paced and focus on everyday aspects of his characters’ everyday lives. And I’m not saying that’s bad. On the contrary. I think it’s nice when a story takes its time and fleshes out its environments. I’m just really surprised people with their increasingly detereorating attention spans enjoy wating over hundreds of pages for the shocking stuff.
To sum up, if you close your eyes at some of the annoying Kingisms, “Revival” is a really good book. Its main strength lies in how it interweaves the most prominent theme – aging and losing the past, a theme stretching back as far as “It” – with the well-known horror we’ve come to expect from its master.