Revival: King channels Lovecraft

Revival by Stephen King horror book reviewsRevival by Stephen King

Revival is a very modern Stephen King novel that channels H.P. Lovecraft at his cyclopean best. His key characters are bold, if not as colorful as some of his best work, and his themes are of familiar and well-trodden King territory. Often hammered by critics (professional and amateur alike) for his weak endings, King builds up to a conclusion that is strong and memorable. It’s monstrous, dark and creepy as hell. It’s pure Lovecraft and beautiful in its austerity.

Revival is a story about religion and anti-religion; a story about belief and the loss of belief … and an inability to believe. Jamie Morton and Pastor Charles Jacobs orbit around each other their entire lives. Jacobs opens Morton’s eyes to God, but when his wife and child are taken from him in an awful automobile accident, their worlds diverge sharply only to reconnect, bounce off of each other, and return again.

Following their deaths, Jacobs transforms and turns his back on true religion; and goes to the extreme to become a revivalist reverend with more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

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.

King has said that his fans love and return to his work not for their love of horror or any specific genre, but because they love his very recognizable voice. In Revival, King’s voice is strong within the characters, themes and memorable lines. While the primary character, Jamie Morton, is not a writer by trade (the tried and true profession of many of King’s protagonists), we are reading his story, reviewing the tale he’s written with the benefit of hindsight. King still knows what he knows and he knows the psyche of authors:

… writing is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped.

As usual, King scatters Easter eggs throughout his novel. He works in a reference to his own Joyland; he drops an analogy between Pastor Jacobs and Ahab’s obsessions with the great white whale. And you’ll find a not-so-subtle reference to the author of Frankenstein while foreshadowing his rather electric finale — a woman named Janice Shelley, who naturally has a daughter named Mary.

This isn’t King’s best, but it’s a wonderful read with a fulfilling conclusion.

~Jason GolombRevival by Stephen King


Revival by Stephen KingRevival is the first Stephen King book in decades to actively disappoint me. I loved the opening, which played to all this smart writer’s strengths, and I thought the climactic scene was dramatic and powerful even if the book did chug along for too long after it. In between, I found it all too easy to set this one down and pick up other books, something that almost never happens, for me, with a King novel. The word that springs to mind for Revival is “episodic,” but those episodes don’t build suspense of momentum in quite the way they should have.

I read the mass market paperback reissue that came out in 2017, although this book was originally published in 2014. Our first-person narrator is a rhythm guitarist named Jamie Morton, the youngest of five children who grew up in Maine. As a young boy, Jamie meets and admires Reverend Charles Daniel Jacobs. Reverend Jacobs is a newly minted young pastor in the early 1960s, and his passion for preaching is only equaled by his love for his family and his curiosity about electricity. When a tragedy happens, the reverend turns on God in a moment that Jamie and the entire town call “the terrible sermon.” He disappears from Jamie’s home town, but as Jamie grows up, their paths cross repeatedly, with Jacobs getting stranger and stranger and his electrical displays more and more elaborate. Fifty years later, Jamie finds himself trapped in a scene that’s a cross between something from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and an H.P. Lovecraft story. (King is paying homage here, as the list of writers at the front of book with Shelley and Lovecraft first, clearly shows.) Along the way Jamie struggles with heroin addiction, and King is brutal and exact in showing not the pleasure of the high, but its aftermath, as Jamie enters a downward spiral. A chance encounter with Jacobs levels him out but leaves him conflicted. Then, after a long stretch of a pleasant but bland existence, Jamie meets Jacobs again and things get freaky.

Nothing felt new in Revival. There are carnivals and state fairs, a staple in King’s work; there is Jamie’s idealized first love, the beautiful Astrid; there is a convenient wishful-thinking sexual interlude with fifty-plus Jamie and a smart, assertive, beautiful twenty-four-year-old. There is medical business in hospital-like settings. There is snappy dialogue. There is the dialect of Maine, there is the working-class family, and there are classic cars. There is a lot of talk about music. Decades go by as Jamie and Jacobs don’t interact, and while I reading it felt like it took decades.

I also do not understand why King chose to create the perfect, beautiful older sister Claire and have her story go the way it does. It does not motivate Jamie in any way. Domestic violence with women as the victims as another King trope but here I don’t see the purpose it serves.

Ultimately, some choice writing (both the thunderstorm scenes, for instance) and the Morton family dynamics carried me along and made we want to finish, but I was not particularly curious about the plan Jacobs has. The former reverend’s loss of faith and his subsequent choices are all seen from the outside, and for me this was a weakness. He is a more compelling character than Jamie and I would have liked to see more than the rather tired, “Why did God let this happen?”

Over my adult lifetime King has given me hours of reading pleasure, and he’s entitled to a miss now and then. Revival did not add to the store of those hours, but it reminded me how much I enjoyed Joyland, and I’m thinking I’ll go read that again.

~Marion Deeds

Published in 2014. 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 that revival 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.

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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. Ctgt /

    Nice review Jason. I’ll add my amateur critique, this would have made a fantastic novella. I enjoyed the beginning and loved the end but the middle was…..pedestrian. In general I have not enjoyed his recent work(although Joyland was really good) but I thought Revival has some strong elements and was better than many of his other recent books.

    • The intensity of the story did, in fact, vary from early on through the end. I agree it was a strong ending (if you’re into certain Lovecraftian vagaries, which are an acquired taste), and certainly stood out from the middle.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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