“Knowing how something works and what it is are two very different things.”
A story about losing faith and looking for other things in its place. But one dedicated to a veritable Who’s Who list of classic horror writers and featuring references to De Vermis Mysteriis. How very King. And like the cautionary tales of old, it’s a tale wherein the narrator wants to tell his whole story, not just the juicy bits.
The new minister in the Methodist church seems like a nice guy to six-year-old Jamie, youngest in a big family, growing up in the shadow of the Cold War in the 60s.
Written from the first person perspective and initially set in the small town of Harlow, Maine, not far from Castle Rock, the story in general seems nice enough at first, encapsulating childhood with King’s usual deftness. Apart from a deeply ominous prologue, that is. Early on, though, Jamie underscores that this book isn’t about happy childhood memories. And it isn’t. It’s not even primarily about childhood. In fact, it’s just as much about aging. And its inevitable consequence.
Reverend Jacobs is interested in electricity. He employs it as a teaching aide during youth nights, to the point where parents and children alike find it a bit overmuch. He also finds other uses for it. For example a small miracle, which brings joy. Then utter tragedy strikes the minister’s family, described in King’s typical unflinching manner. The “terrible sermon” that follows makes Jacobs’s continued service an impossibility. To young Jamie, though, it’s as if the truth has finally been told.
Later, Jamie discovers music. The electric guitar, of course. King delights as much in describing the joy of this discovery, as well as the young love affair to follow, as he excels at describing horror. When presenting Jamie as a junkie, I should add, we also get to enjoy King the dark comedian, relishing this chance to bring life at rock bottom to, well, life. Not unlike some scenes in Dr Sleep. One wonders if King is campaigning to warn Constant reader of the dangers of drugs or if he simply writes what he knows.
The two meet up later in life, when things are very different for both of them. Electricity is still very much a thing for the former reverend. Much more so, in fact. But the things he can do, ranging from cheap tricks to mysterious healing, seem to have after effects.
“Something. Something. Happened. Happened.”
Somehow the spookiest line I’ve read in ages.
Later still, Jacobs is a travelling preacher and healer. Even if the rev’s new-old career might be a ruse, the description of a revival tent meeting has elements of genuine warmth. And crass deceit, as well. And, still, the electricity.
Like 1922, it’s a story you’d be forgiven for abandoning before the end. But whereas 1922 begins almost at rock bottom, “Revival” presents the good times first, or rather interspersed between the bad ones. That makes it even worse.
Their paths keep crossing, ultimately leading to a final experiment which we have been prepped to dread from page one. When the story arc finally returns to a place of great import for an ending of total despair, echoing Shelley and Lovecraft but going further than any of them, an ending that makes that of Under the Dome feel brightly optimistic, we meet King at his very darkest. Crowning the patient, realistic setup with this outlandish horror works almost too well and Revival can really get under your skin. The only comfort seems to be that to King – judging by, for example, the almost provocatively mundane afterword – it’s ‘just’ another story. Not what he truly believes. I hope …