“Revival: A Novel”
By Stephen King
Scribner, New York, N.Y.
416 pages, hardcover, $30
Jamie Morton is the classic Stephen King protagonist: a normal guy with normal abilities caught up in an abnormal situation where he has to come up with supernormal courage. The twist, in this book, is that the situation spans most of a lifetime.
“Revival” is, over the bulk of its 400-plus pages, Jamie’s life story. And really, most of it is pretty normal. In the opening scene, Jamie is a 6-year-old playing with plastic army men in his yard in the small central Maine town of Harlow in 1962. His dad owns an oil delivery business. His mom works at home and asks questions about new high school friends such as “Do they smoke?” to which Jamie makes replies, with complete dishonesty, such as “No.”
He has a protective-angel older sister, an aloof older brother, and another brother who eventually becomes a borderline religious fanatic. Overshadowing Jamie’s life is the Rev. Charles Jacobs, who takes Jamie under his wing during his first week in town and never completely disappears from the story. The reverend (whose name later metamorphoses into Pastor Dan and finally to just Charlie), has a thing for electricity and invents gadgets in the shed, some of which he shows to Jamie. One of them has a startling effect on the aloof brother, Con.
Good things happen, and bad, in Jamie’s life, as this is after all a Stephen King novel and minces no incidents. The Rev. Jacobs is dealt with particularly harshly early on and vacates Harlow. Meanwhile, Jamie learns to play guitar and becomes a minimally competent nightclub-level rock and roll musician. This leads to a bit of regrettably common trouble after a while, and by strange synchronicity Jamie literally stumbles again upon Pastor Dan, whose electrical gadgets have become, as it were, far more sophisticated than they were back in Harlow. Not to put too fine a point on it, Jamie’s life is changed and he finds himself permanently in the umbra of Pastor Dan.
Except for the pastor’s electrical weird science, the book to this point could be read in college English classes as an entertaining, insightful, clever, down-to-earth American bildungsroman (or novel of the shaping of a person’s personality). The characters are so crisply pictured you could swear it’s the story of real Mainers. Although, to be honest, it’s hard to miss the fact that Pastor Dan, on the different occasions he turns up, is well on his way to becoming a millennial Dr. Frankenstein.
Which brings us to the last quarter of the book — about which, of course, no prospective readers want to know any details. But since the latter parts of most Stephen King novels make 90-degree turns of one kind or another, it’s not giving anything away to say this one does, too. “Revival” at a certain point stops being the story of Jamie Morton’s life and turns into the ending of a full-blown Gothic thriller with lightning storms, mountaintops, bodies and life-and-death struggles. The dialogue and prose of the climactic scenes sound like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley all speaking at the same time in a vision of gnostic hell so creepy it could turn you agnostic. And that’s saying something, given that a theme of the book involves different dispositions toward the validity of organized religion.
Yet again, if you’re a fan of Stephen King’s stories, you’re not going to be let down by this one. It’s another of his indelible, upper-echelon marks on the place where the world we actually live in meets Gothic fantasy. And electrifies it.
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].