I never really know what to think about Stephen King. I have a great deal of respect for him as a writer and for his attitude towards the publishing world in general. However, the last few of his books that I’ve made my way through have never quite delivered the promise that his reputation makes for them. I fell in love with the gorgeous, pulpy cover for his 2013 book Joylandbut found the final twist to be really fucking dull. Am I missing something? Or is this King of contemporary horror just a little pedestrian these days? Not terrible by any means but nothing to get excited about. Although, he always has this way of drawing me back in. My fucking huge TBR pile has prevented me from buying Mr Mercedes so far, his first 2014 release, but every time I see it on the shelf I get a little bit closer. It was the connection to Frankenstein and HP Lovecraft that persuaded me to break my book buying ban for Revival. If something connected to Mary Shelley then I’d probably be tempted to break anything to try it.
You’ve got to hand it to the guy, Stephen King is an enterprising author. Revival is his second release this year and the 58th novel he’s ever written. This momentous work is also supposed to possess “the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King as ever written” and has even been described by the author himself as “too scary” to talk about. Well that’s just a fuck load of hype for one book to live up to. Especially a book that so helpfully signposts where it’s going: with its pretty obvious title, a cover full of images of lightening, countless references to Mary Shelley and the importance placed on the HP Lovecraft quotation “That is not dead which can external lie,/ And with strange aeons even death may die”. It doesn’t exactly take a fucking genius to work out what’s coming.
However, King happily embraces these obvious hints and you find yourself willing to walk this all too familiar path. He’s been writing for long enough now to know how to write an engrossing novel and Revival begins with a fantastic tale of a young man’s coming of age. Our narrator is Jamie Morton, a small-town boy raised in a religious community, who recounts his connection with his one-time pastor Charles Jacobs. The six-year-old Jamie falls under Jacobs’ spell, particularly once the minister uses electricity to cure his brother of an incurable ailment. After Jacobs suffers a crisis of faith and is asked to leave his post, Jamie finds himself turning away from God and towards the murky waters of rock and roll. And getting caught up in the dangers that go along with it. Suffering from a crippling addiction, Jamie agrees to act as a guinea pig for one of Jacob’s miracle cures and finds his connection with the older man moving into dangerous and fucking crazy levels. When Jamie can’t fight his own curiosity, the aging rocker joins his mentor on a road to solve some of life’s biggest mysteries.
The latter part of the book can only be described as fucking insane and soon starts to reach unnecessarily ridiculous levels. It’s only thanks to King’s expertise with the smaller details that you find yourself dragged along for the ride. The writer has a knack with the intimate details of his characters’ lives and it is the key moments in Jamie’s upbringing that resonate so strongly within the narrative. The ordinary journey of maturation this young boy undertakes is what keeps you so involved. Even when that story gets as far from our own reality as it possibly can. Things get ramped up to 11 by the end of Jacob’s experimentation with “secret electricity”. Despite building towards a supposedly terrifying ending, Revival just feels kinda silly. In itself this isn’t a bad thing but, considering the incredibly strong start the novel had, it feels like the book deserved more.
I’ll be honest, I put off finishing the book last night for fear that Mr King would disturb my peaceful slumber. Really I had nothing to worry about. The end of Jamie and Charles’ story is basically one of those ‘so bad they’re good’ B movies you can find on the horror channel at 1 am. I’m all for supernatural elements, hell I spent 4 years studying Romanticism, but Revival was just too much. If it ever gets made into a film it would need the smallest special effects budget ever to keep the spirit of the book alive. The great evil that was constantly threatening to emerge just never came. What we got was camp, old-school horror. This is why I don’t get Stephen King anymore. He was one of the greatest contemporary horror writers but I can’t help feeling that he just isn’t bringing it anymore. There were moments when I genuinely believed Revival was going to ruin my life a little bit but, aside from being a little unsettling in parts, it was less traumatic than a viewing of the film Mama Mia.