Stephen King’s Revival: Book Review

I’ve always associated Stephen King with large plots, tons of characters, and a certain level of crazy that I just don’t get elsewhere. He is, after all, the man that gave us Pennywise the Clown, Jack Torrance, and Randall Flagg (among many, many others). Yet his last few novels have taken a step back from this norm, giving us something smaller in scope and normalcy. Dr. Sleep was more a slice-of-life book than anything else, and Joyland is a small story about a college student’s summer vacation job.

Revival continues this trend. It’s not about something; it’s about someone, in this case, Jamie Morton. It’s a chronicle, a first-person past journal, and Jamie only focuses on what he considers important to his life story. There are no deep cuts to other characters, and there isn’t anything overly supernatural going on in Jamie’s life. No domes are falling from the sky to trap a town; no alien vessels are being uncovered.

There are certainly no characters on the same level as Randall Flagg.

Yet, that’s okay. It’s nice to see King tackle something smaller, and it’s also nice to see him work with a different writing style than his norm. After well over 50 novels, it’s nice to know that King can still surprise his fans.

Revival is, loosely put, about Jamie Morton’s relationship with Charles Jacobs. The two first meet when Jamie is young, playing with a bunch of toy soldiers in his front lawn. Jacobs (then a reverend) is going door to door to introduce himself as the new minister, and he helps Jamie set up his soldiers and plot out their plan of attack.

The first leg of the novel describes Jamie as a child, his home town, and Charles Jacobs. In some regards, there’s really not much plot to be had. It’s a slice-of-life affair, a sweet nostalgic trip towards a time when life was carefree and normal. Jacobs is a nice guy, and Jamie is an imaginative kid. The two get along well, but they also don’t interact all that much. We find out that Jacobs is interested in electricity—what Jamie’s dad calls a “hobby horse”—but other than that, much of this section of the novel is simply characters interacting with each other.

Life changes when Jacobs’ family is killed in a car accident. He forgoes God and leaves to pursue his hobby horse. Life then continues on.

If this all sounds boring and not worth reading, you’d be wrong. Jamie’s childhood, while not filled with tension, is still interesting and entertaining. There’s something relatable to him and to Reverend Jacobs; but more than that, there’s something behind the simple past. Stories are not written without reason, so we as readers know Jamie will eventually hit some kind of point, some kind of revelation. It’s just a matter of getting there and enjoying the ride in the process.

After Jacobs leaves, Jamie talks of highschool and beyond. He falls in love with the guitar, and he eventually joins a band. He gets a girlfriend. Life is, well, life. Jamie’s adolescence isn’t the norm by any means, yet it’s still just as mundane as the norm.

Revival isn’t a page turner, and in fact, reads best at one or two chapters per day. There’s no great urgency to want to hit the end, but that’s okay. The book knows exactly what kind of story it is, and it’s that comfortability that makes it such a pleasant and interesting read.

It also helps that Revival might be some of King’s best writing, and his use of first-person past is brilliant. I’ve always had problems with the first-person genre, mostly because it’s hard to write in and many authors don’t do a good job of it. It’s not always believable to hear such a complete story when life is long and details are easily forgotten. King knows this, and his writing acts accordingly.

Jamie forgets long sections of his life, and he chooses to simply not narrate others that aren’t important. The details about his childhood are good enough to paint a scene, yet they are sparse enough to be believable. As Jamie moves towards the present, the details of his life become more vivid and clear. The reader can tell how far in the past something is based on Jamie’s way of talking, and that goes a long way to make him and his story feel real.

Throughout Revival, Jamie runs into Charles Jacobs again and again. As the two age, Jacobs’ obsession with electricity continues to grow, until he’s working with what he calls “secret electricity” that has the power to heal cancers, cure addictions, and even fix things like hearing loss.

Yet Jacobs’ secret electricity seems to come with a price, as those healed by him seem to suffer delusions and other mental problems. Most of these problems are slight—sleepwalking for example—while others are more severe.

The mystery becomes one of motive. Jacob’s abandons religion for science, yet as he refines his healing arts, he’s becomes a revival priest, going from town to town to cure those in need. He acts like a generic charlatan, but his results are anything but generic.

Yet in some respects, it’s not Jacobs’ electricity that’s interesting, it’s his change in character. Watching him go from the nice (and slightly naïve) reverenced to a cold scientist is remarkable, and it all comes off as realistic. Revival is, at its core, a book about characters and the effects tragedy can have on people.

The same can be said of Jamie, who goes through some drastic changes as he narrates the phases of his life. It’s a shame that he hits a few points King has tread often, such as drug addiction, but there are still plenty of surprises to be had.

Odds are you’ll find Revival in the horror section of your local book store. For the first 80% of the book, you’ll be wondering why. It’s not scary. It’s interesting, it’s fun, but it isn’t scary. Yet the last 20% are awash in Lovecraftian horror, and you can easily tell where King is drawing his inspiration from. From the get-go, Revival set itself up towards some kind of payoff, an answer to why Jamie is telling us his story. The payoff to this question is intense, amazing, and absolutely worth the wait.

It’s also terrifying, and it’s the kind of horror that has allowed H.P. Lovecraft to withstand the test of time. The actions near the end of Revival are scary, but it’s the ideas behind them that will stick with you.

In some respects, Revival is the kind of book H.P. Lovecraft would have written if he were good at writing characters.

Revival is a break from what I expect from Stephen King. It’s an introspective look on religion and loss, it treads some well-used Stephen King archetypes, and there are points of the novel where there doesn’t seem to be a point at all. Yet the payoff is excellent, and the journey to that payoff is worth the read, even if it’s slow and mundane at points.

Revival is worth your time.

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5 thoughts on “Stephen King’s Revival: Book Review

    1. Premise sounds really cool. I post my book reviews on a website called wethenerdy.com, which does fairly well in terms of traffic (though not at the moment since everything has decided to break). If you send me a review copy, I’ll gladly review it for that site (and my blog, though it doesn’t see too much traffic :P)

    1. There certainly are, but King is a good writer. The thing with King, or at least something someone once said is that: He’s really good, but he chose to write best-selling books and not Literature books. His novels are easy to digest and usually plot/character heavy with little substance. I don’t find that to be a flaw though, since I usually read for pleasure and if I want something deep, I’ll dip into Melville or what have you.

      I’m curious to know who you prefer, both for horror and just fiction in general. There are too many authors for me to easily follow, so I kinda just grab books at random. Hell, the only reason I got into Stephen King is because he writes huge novels and I enjoy audiobooks, so instead of 12 hour audio productions I get 40 to 50 hour audio productions.

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