Book Reviews, Stephen King

Revival * Stephen King

Revival von Stephen King
Revival von Stephen King

“Electricity is the basis of all life.”
That was Jacobs, all right. The line was better than a fingerprint.
“The rest said something like, Take your heart. It runs on microvolts. This current is provided by potassium, an electrolyte. Your body converts potassium into ions—electrically charged particles—and uses them to regulate not just your heart but your brain and EVERYTHING ELSE.”

“Revival,” King’s 55th novel, introduces a fellow solitary genius, the Rev. Charles Jacobs, a Frankenstein-like mad scientist who sets out to decipher the “secret of the universe” and the “path to ultimate knowledge” by harnessing and using a “secret electricity” to open “doorways to the infinite.” Jacobs is a man obsessed, ready to sacrifice the entire human race to get what he wants.

This book is somewhat of a coming of age story. The reader gets to grow up with Jamie and we are all involved with Reverend Charles Jacobs too.. whether we want to be or not.
Jamie’s story takes you through five decades of his life weaving in and out with encounters with the charismatic Jacobs.

I think most people who have suffered great losses in their lives—great tragedies—come to a crossroads. Maybe not right then, but when the shock wears off. It may be months later; it may be years. They either expand as a result of their experience, or they contract.”

Jamie Morton first meets Reverend Charles Jacobs when he’s a 6 year old kid in Maine during the early ‘60s. Jacobs is a popular minister with a pretty wife and infant son, and he loves fiddling with electrical gadgets. Jamie and Jacobs have a bond from the moment they meet that is cemented later when Jacobs aids a member of Jamie’s family.
After a tragedy drives Jacobs out of town, Jamie profoundly feels the loss, but time marches on. When he becomes a teenager Jamie discovers he has some musical talent and as an adult he makes a living as a rhythm guitar player in bar bands. But Jamie hasn’t seen the last of Jacobs as their paths cross again and again over the years and each strange encounter leaves Jamie increasingly worried about what Jacobs is up to.

Jacobs turns himself into a revival priest, spreading his word from a tent, performing miracles to the sound of soulful gospel music.
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“I stand before you, a wanderer on the face of America, and a vessel of God’s love. Will you accept me, as I accept you?”

Jamie encounters him as he is going through a rough period in his life and the minister hires him as his aid. He teaches him that all the miracles he performs on the stage are just acts, he tries out his new inventions, all of them based on the power of electricity.

Do you understand what you’re dealing with? How it works?”
“A fair question. Let me pose one in return. Do you understand what happens when you flick a wall switch? Could you list the sequence of events that ends with light banishing the shadows in a dark room?”
“No.”
“Do you even know if that flick of your finger closes a circuit or opens one?”
“No idea.”
“Yet that never stopped you from turning on a light, did it? Or powering up your electric guitar when it was time to play?”

They split ways again after a visit from an angry father – ready to beat the minister to a pulp after his on-stage trick had left his country-life loving daughter believing that she was a high society lady and she broke into a jewelry shop with a hammer to get her jewels.
He stays clear of drugs and away from the reverend but he keeps an eye on him as his fame increases.

“This is how we bring “about our own damnation, you know—by ignoring the voice that begs us to stop. To stop while there’s still time.”

revival
He can’t let him be and he meets him again after a show where he was making people walk using two gold rings held at their temples. He confides into his lack of faith and his belief in electricity – or better off in an existence beyond the human world that can be attained through science.

“They don’t deserve the truth. You called them rubes, and how right you are. They have set aside what brains they have—and many of them have quite a lot—and put their faith in that gigantic and fraudulent insurance company called religion. It promises them an eternity of joy in the next life if they live according to the rules in this one, and many of them try, but even that’s not enough. When the pain comes, they want miracles. To them I’m nothing but a witch doctor who touches them with magic rings instead of shaking a bone rattle over them.”

The problem is – he is performing experiments on live and willing human test subjects and when Jamie starts uncovering that a high rate of his “cured” patient had died (or went insane), he goes to the now retired minister to face him and tell him to stop. To his surprise, the minister was already waiting for him and asked for his help to open a door that would reunite him with his late wife and son.

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We spoke of a certain door. It’s the door into death, and sooner or later each one of us grows small, reduced to nothing but mind and “spirit, and in that reduced state we pass through, leaving our bodies behind like empty gloves. Sometimes death is natural, a mercy that puts an end to suffering. But all too often it comes as an assassin, full of senseless cruelty and lacking any vestige of compassion.

What made that ending so powerful? The idea that death is merely a doorway that has leads every person to a HP Lovecraft nightmare of an afterworld where all spend an eternity damned and enslaved is something that I’d think would the terrify everyone from the very religious to the skeptical atheist. Good or bad, believer or non-believer, we all end up in the same place. Death isn’t the gateway to the magical place where you’ll see grandma and all your pets again. It isn’t even a long dark dreamless sleep. It’s the start of a torment that will never end. And there is no escape from it.

That’s the kind of idea that could make even a writer like Cormac McCarthy break into tears as he wails, “King, you went too far!”

The fright went deep now. Before marrying Vic, she had been a librarian in the Westchester school system, and her own private nightmare had always been telling the kids for the third time – in her loudest speaking voice – to quiet down at once, please.

When she did that, they always had – enough for her to get through the period, at least – but what if they wouldn’t? That was her nightmare. What if they absolutely wouldn’t?
What did that leave? The question scared her.
It scared her that such a question should ever have to be asked, even to oneself, in the dark of night. She had been afraid to use her loudest voice, and had done so only when it became absolutely necessary.
Because that was where civilization came to an abrupt, screeching halt.
That was the place where the tar turned to dirt.
If they wouldn’t listen when you used your very loudest voice, a scream became your only recourse.

And the book ends with a scream!

I felt slightly cheated by King’s version of the afterlife. Ants. Really? Ants? Massive ants tormenting the souls of the dead into eternal work and no rest? WTF?

I know it’s a massive spoiler but still, be warned. The book is 30% a beautiful coming-of-age story, 20% fight against addiction, 10% the miracles of electricity as professed by a Tesla-like scientist, 10% faithless priest as we saw in the TV show Carnivale and 30% crap. If you can live with the crap, you’ll love the book.
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