Palaver's Stephen King blog

Author: palaver (page 1 of 8)

If it Bleeds (2020)

Named after a saying about gory news, this collection contains four longer stories. There is a pattern of this, going all the way back to Different Seasons. Every other collection, roughly, contains novellas. This one, perhaps even more than King’s later work in general, has a theme of ageing and death. Perhaps not as the main subject of each tale but it keeps recurring. 

The first tale, Mr Harrigan’s phone, is about a rich man in a small town and a boy who reads to him. It’s reminiscent in tone of other latter-day King tales of youth, with its straightforward prose and nuanced characters. The old businessman gets an iPhone and immediately sees problems and possibilities his young friend hasn’t even thought about. When he dies, the story takes a turn from the mundane towards the spooky and the coming-of-age-y, not unlike the short novel “Later”. With this perfect summation of profound relief.  

“I let out a breath it felt I’d been holding for two months.”

The Life of Chuck starts with a strikingly casual description of a world falling apart. Most are in a state of laconic acceptance. In the midst of it all someone is publicly celebrating someone named Charles for “39 great years”. 

“Death brings philosophy to ruin,” someone puts it, but there is also a sense of mystery here, of awe at the relevance of a single life. Told in chronological reverse, this is a story where every sentence seems to matter. Of little moments of perfection and the inevitability of an end. Perhaps one of my favourites among all of King’s short stories of recent years. 

The titular and longest story begins with a message from Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges books to Ralph Anderson, whom she met in The Outsider. According to the message, her life is at risk and she warns him about picking up where she left off. Like Mr Mercedes, the actual story starts with a seemingly random act of violence; a bomb in a school. Holly finds herself pondering an unlikely suspect. An elderly uncle and her troubled mother (whom she loves but does not like) provide more down to earth subject matter. Like a visit to a nursing home which I find more interesting than the murders. I must be getting old. 

Like the last Hodges book in particular, there is patient attention to details, trivial as well as more interesting. Like The Outsider, it posits the existence of impossible things. I like the characters but I didn’t fully buy The Outsider and when the links start to appear, a sense of detachment  from the story sets in. Which is ironic, since this is what King usually triumphs at. As Holly puts it: 

“Because I can believe the unbelievable.”

Sometimes I can’t. But with writing like this, it’s hard to complain:

“He holds out a hand which arthritis has turned into a driftwood sculpture.”

It is of course well written, with the solid research King always devotes to his detective-ish stories but I don’t fully buy it. But that confrontation at the restaurant is wonderfully tense. And, above all, the story is mostly about Holly.

Rat, the final tale, starts in equally familiar King territory: with a writer. Drew Larson has a few short stories, one of them celebrated, under his belt when the building blocks of a whole novel jump into his head. It needs to be written in his dad’s deserted cabin in “TR-90”, another familiar spot for King fans. 

King skilfully brings the simple cabin life to … life, in its depressing but cozy lack of glory, and even manages to add some new thoughts on writing, impressive regarding the number of stories he has already dedicated to the topic. 

“Reality was deep, and it was far. It held many secrets and went on forever.”

An oncoming flu and a ditto storm breaks his flow after a few days of great writing and a recurring problem of his returns: having too many words to choose from, the self-doubt and the gnawing questioning of each choice until “every word seemed to have a better one hiding behind it, just out of sight”. In the midst of misery, Drew gets advice from the unlikeliest of places. And is offered a deal. It does not quite turn into Fair Extension, but I could have done without this addition to what is otherwise an engaging story. 

Gripes like this aside, all in all a solid collection. 

Billy Summers (2021)

This novel is a somewhat unusual for King in being written in the present tense (third person limited). Writing about atypical people is pretty typical of King, though. From the very first paragraph, the titular character is introduced as an intuitively intellectual, well-read man who pretends to prefer comic books. He’s also a former soldier, nowadays gun for hire. One with principles, insisting on being informed before accepting a job:

“Is it a bad person?”

Aiming to retire, he’s offered the classic Last Job, this one featuring a man in his own line of work but without the principles. Typical of King is also the ability to provide exposition in the form of a long dialogue, but making it feel like vivid storytelling. No exception here. The catch, if catch it be, is that he will have to spend some time in a small southern community until the job is due. Sounds almost like an inverted 11.22.63, right?

Everything has been prepared for him including a cover story where he is supposed to be working on a book. Can he actually write one, perhaps even his life story, on a probably bugged computer, in a way that doesn’t reveal him as a thinking man? As well as socialise with neighbours and new acquaintances, and the woman from the accounting firm in the same office building, without getting too close, for months? And maintain an additional fake identity in a plan hidden even from his employer? That’s the plan anyway. Oh, and can he trust his employer?

”Writing is good. He’s always wanted to do it and now he is. That’s good. Only who knew it hurts so much?”

Billy may be playing his ‘dumb self’ but King offers tidbits of learning to the reader in the form of what Billy only thinks. Billy may also act humourless but King has fun describing people and settings, as always. It’s entertaining right out of the gate.

Firmly placed in our times with the occasional Trump diss and references to Netflix shows (Ozark!), it has that King sense of realness one has come to expect. Unsurprisingly, sections of the book Billy is writing is also included, initially in childishly but engagingly written sentences, short on commas but long on tragedy. Does the story matter, he asks himself, even if no one reads it? Yes, he decides.

“Because it’s mine.”

The event which could be the finale of a different book happens before the halfway mark, and it’s suitably pulse-raising. After this, though, there’s plenty more story to tell. Because, as he’s started to suspect long ago, Billy himself might be a loose end. Also, he hasn’t finished his book.

King being King, he is often very straightforward in his writing. The story is the main thing, right. But he’s also the King that will write:

“There’s a certain breed of fast-dealing small-city sharpie who believes that no matter how deep the shit is, someone will always throw him a rope. These are the broad-smiling firm-handshaking hustlers in Izod polos and Bally loafers who could have come with self-involved optimist stamped on their birth certificates.”

A period of waiting leaves time for more looking back, on Billy’s time in Iraq for instance. Here the chapters get longer, and the ‘dumb self’ is no longer writing them. As is often the case, King seems to have studied up on a topic (or several) that he can’t possibly have personal experience of well enough to write about it credibly. In this case, it’s the subjects of sniping and the Iraq war that are portrayed with a level of detail that can hardly be guesswork. The jargon, the fatalism. The details you rarely hear about but which sound true when you do.

But in the present, his fundamental decentness soon lands him in the ‘mother of all messes’. Trying to be a little better than he strictly has to be, while still acknowledging the alternative, complicates his situation considerably. And potentially starts a friendship. Which is exactly the mistake he made with his recent neighbours. Still, you hope for him. Billy really is a good-ish guy. And a killer. He is “stuck with himself and must make the best of it.”

Suddenly he is responsible for another human being. Panic attacks and pandemic foreshadowing. And someone to read his book.

“He wants to thank her for crying, but that would be weird.”

But there are also scores to settle. And mysteries to unravel. The ‘why’ of it is in some ways what I expected, but more complex.

Some two thirds in, Billy Summers is a perfect book. But so was The Institute at that point, and the ending didn’t really live up to the setup. Will it be different here? Yes. Actually. Without failing to reference the type of action movies that this narrative is reminiscent of, but steering clear of their cliches but not foregoing the excitement, King gets everything right. It’s expertly written but Kingly honest. It’s all story but no bs. It’s a modern tale of a chivalrous knight. And very aware of itself.

“Every character in a story must be used at least twice.”

When, near the end, Billy’s book about his past becomes the story of the present, switching from third person present tense into first person past tense, it feels entirely natural. And after that, there is still one more bold literary move left. A perfect one.

And the ending is not only good, it’s one of King’s finest.

Later (2021)

“You tote your own burden in life”

laterLater is the third King novel published under the Hard Case Crime imprint. Like Joyland, it’s written in the first person by someone trying to make sense of something that happened. This one, however, is set in the modern era, with smartphones and all. 

As a kid raised by a single mother, Jamie Conklin discovers he can communicate with the dead. The ghosts usually move on in a little while, after becoming inaudible. He is told by his mother in no uncertain terms to hide his ability, which is presented in a mildly comical scene involving their deceased neighbour.

“They have to tell you the truth when they’re dead. I didn’t know that at the age of six; I just assumed all grownups told the truth, living or dead.”

Mrs Conklin is a literary agent fond of four letter words and wine. In the stock market crash of 2008, she loses most of her money. But when the writer of a series of books about the Roanoke settlement that have so far ensured them a steady income suddenly dies, Jamie’s desperate mother has an idea …

Yes, it’s partly another King book about writers. And yes, he has found another fresh angle. And the Roanoke settlement is an interesting topic worthy of a series of historic novels. It’s also funny, sympathetic and genuinely entertaining. At least at first. The roster of characters include a police officer named Liz who happens to be his mother’s lover. She gets wind of his gift and he tries to explain, not knowing what kind of person she will turn into. 

“You get used to marvellous things. (…) There’s too much wonder, that’s all. It’s everywhere.”

There is terror here as well, though. A serial bomber named ‘Thumper’ is maiming and killing people at random and, desperate for a break, Liz thinks his ability may be useful here. But meeting a dead murderer is much worse than the ‘normal’ ones. And what if they don’t fade away? What if they hate you and decide to hang around, perhaps even making dark but deceitful prophecies? 

So yes, it’s a horror story. A very Kingish one with little embedded flashes of wisdom and a main character with integrity. At 260 pages a short one, as King novels go , but with room for a reference to IT (‘the ritual of Chüd’), a terrible possibility and a dramatic final stretch involving Liz, a drug dealer and his opulent villa. 

And perhaps many readers foresee the final twist. I must confess I did not. It’s a pretty bold one, and still quite low key. As Jamie puts it, it seems “laughably unimportant” compared to the ominous shadow looming over the epilogue. Ominous but not hopeless. 

Later is eerie and thrilling but not profoundly disturbing. It’s also comfortably familiar, as King as it gets. He even quotes himself:

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

”The stories in this book are harsh,” King says in the afterward. And they are. Like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, this is a collection of four novellas – or rather three of them with a shorter story included as a bonus – all of which represent the darker side of King. That is, they don’t just tackle horrific subjects – which is, admittedly, pretty typical for King – but they do so mainly without the consolation of hope, friendship or bravery he just as often will add. They are also, with one exception, thrillers without any supernatural elements. 

(For some reason, I tend to read King’s collections over time, making sure to finish the novels while they are reasonably new. In this case, I managed to take ten years to read through all four.)

“I remember thinking: This night will never end. And that was right.”

1922 is a first-person account of a horrendous crime, told by a man who wants the reader’s sympathy but doesn’t hold back. It’s a rural noir full of deep insight and keen darkness. It’s not a fun read, but superbly written. It’s a story you finish out of a sense of duty rather than suspense and one of King’s very darkest. 

“Most were ladies of the sort who do not attend public occasions without first donning hats.”

Big Driver is certainly no children’s story, but starts off brighter, with a generous dose of humorous observations about life as a semi-famous writer, with a main character fond of talking to her TomTom navigator and her cat and regularly doing speaking engagements. Reading it a decade after publication, I’m struck by how quaint the parts about her GPS feel. The harmless introduction makes the horrors to come (realistic but extreme) doubly shocking. At first not unlike The Gingerbread Girl but ultimately very different, it takes a thinking man’s Death Wish turn. Vivid, thrilling and with a streak of dark humour that almost makes it a relief to read after 1922. 

“What could I wish for? I have everything I want.”

Fair Extension is a wicked, short tale of making the wrong choice and happily seeing someone else pay the price. It’s a story about good fortune vs bad one, and the evil little person that may live in all of us. I don’t like it much and I don’t think I’m supposed to. 

“Tonight the dark was populated by Bob’s harem.”

A Good Marriage, finally, tells of how Darcy Anderson’s orderly but somewhat dull life instantly falls apart at the discovery of a horrible secret. The explanation that follows is presented in a jocular and almost nostalgic fashion, a man gently trying to convince and seemingly earnest, making it no less horrifying. And then she has a choice to make. This is noir of a different brand than 1922, and in some ways even darker. In other ways not. 

The afterword is, as always, well worth reading. One of those fascinating reminders of how seriously King takes his craft. 

The Institute (2019)

IMG_2657An airplane, a request that somebody give up their seat for a government agent. Tim
takes the offer and embarks on a hitchhiking trip, leading to a small town in South Carolina where there is work to be found for a former police officer such as himself. As a “night knocker”.

America. Nobody writes it better. 

”They exchanged the desultory conversational gambits of mere acquaintances.”

As is common with King, the protagonist is an unglamorously decent person who treats others with respect and sees the good as well as the bad in strangers. Ordinary human interaction is the subject matter for much of the beginning of the book.  

Less ordinary is Luke Ellis, a hugely gifted twelve-year-old. He is barely introduced before he is abducted by shadowy agents and finds himself in a windowless replica of his own room. 

We’ve been here before. These are classic King elements, now condensed to acronyms like TK and TP, in a setting bringing both ‘The Shop’ and the dutiful creatures trying to break the beams in the Dark Tower series to mind. The Institute comes across as a dilapidated but brutally run holdover from the Cold War, dusty but deadly. As for the people running it, we are offered multiple perspectives and allowed an inside view into an organisation that the children they hold captive can only guess, or perhaps telepath, about. It is familiar ground but made more fertile by current events. Of course King gives Donald Trump a little swipe in passing early on, and it won’t be the last. As for a big theme of the book, imprisoning children, it is more than a swipe. 

As for the technicians and doctors working in this hidden prison, they might consider themselves working bees only doing their jobs, or perhaps even doing Important Work, but when King lets a character muse that they may be ‘damned’ he’s clearly not letting them off the hook. Personal responsibility in the face of orders from above is another theme highly relevant for our times. 

The kids themselves, preteens and teens, bond in their confusion and temporary shared misfortune. Temporary, because after a while they move on to another part of the institute. Taking steadily darker turns, The Institute feels painfully real when describing the often crude methods employed by indifferent or even contemptuous adults to get ‘results’. But when the attempts to increase his skill set to telepathy actually seem to work and Luke successfully hides this fact, he may have an edge. Especially when joining forces and minds with a few others. A thrilling escape attempt is the obvious next step, replete with the ordeals King usually provides for his protagonists. Success must never be cheap. The details about train yard logistics offered around the halfway mark are less thrilling, however, but it is endearing how King still finds new topics to research for his books. Keeps him young, I guess. 

The scenes from the perspective of the people in charge of the Institute are both depressing and chilling, especially in “Back Half”. Where children are broken down and sent on. Where a grimy sign might dutifully proclaim: 

“Remember these were heroes”

Dark. But there is also a sense of classic King adventure here, with a young protagonist facing perils that would give grownups pause – not unlike The Talisman. 

Some two thirds in, The Institute has grown into the perfect thriller. Equal parts hope and fear, in two parallel story lines. The kindness of strangers and the petty greed of ‘stringers and uncles’. It’s a book demanding to be filmed, much like Under the Dome before its pitch black finale. Will this too veer into “too much darkness” or hold the course, a reader might be forgiven for wondering. For thinking “please just let these kids find a way to get out before …” Even if the work of the Institute should actually turn out to be vital. 

I won’t spoil but I will say that there is the kind of chaotic shoot-out of which King is sometimes a bit too fond. But it doesn’t end there. Far from it. 

 

Footnote
Don’t miss the moving afterword about King’s longtime research assistant, Russ Dorr. 

Elevation (2018)

“The incredible lightness of being”

A short story published in the form of a book, one might say. And why not. King has previously published short novels bundled into collections, as if they were short stories. The man can do what he likes.

Elevation is Thinner, but exactly the opposite in every way. Like the protagonist of Kings’s dark Bachman tale, Scott Carey is becoming lighter. Not exactly losing weight but simply applying less and less pressure on the scales. It is, of course, impossible which, of course, won’t stop King from writing about it and making you believe it. 

In keeping with his desire to keep up, King makes his sympathetic protagonist a web designer and has obviously done some research, though not on as detailed a technical level as in Mr Mercedes. Castle Rock is here presented as a normal town with well-todo people and a golf course. A town people from elsewhere would gladly visit for a charity race. ’Inside view’ and ’The Night Flier’ flutter by as references. The story also involves a newly arrived lesbian couple running a restaurant but having a hard time with the conservative locals. 

The weight mystery is mainly a positive experience for Scott. The “Turkey trot” running competition becomes an occasion to surprise the town with an impressive performance, enhanced by a profound joy brought on by just about everything around and inside him. His heart, “that sturdy little engine”, the sound of running feet on a covered bridge. Even as a strange impending doom draws near, he’s having the time of his life and making new friends. You’d be forgiven for cynically wondering when everything is going to turn bad. 

Will it? I won’t say more than that it’s a story not only about a strange phenomenon but about friendship and reconciliation as well. Touching and heart-felt, Elevation may not be a Real novel, but it’s a more memorable story than many thrice as long. It’s also unironically message-y, pointing to a better way in a divisive time, and, dare I say it, uplifting. 

But of course he sneaks in one overt jab at a certain president.

“(…) which would have been bad – even Trumpian – diplomacy”

The Outsider (2018)

”Do you always know who did it when you sit down to write?”

A terrible crime has been committed in Flint City. Ralph Anderson, one of the town’s three police officers, has a prime suspect and decides to make the arrest a public affair. The popular Coach Maitland, uncomprehending, is brought away in cuffs in the middle of a game, in front of a big crowd and his family. He is just as stunned as Anderson is sure of his guilt. It’s a perfect, vivid example of building conflicting loyalties in the reader. What is one to believe? 

As events unfold, interspersed with witness protocols that certainly points to Maitland being the head suspect, this sense of ambiguity only deepens. Along with his family he seems a victim of a terrible mistake, but if guilty of the vile crime he is in fact a monster. What is one to believe…?

It’s one of those books that grab you from the get go and pulls you in, skipping between the various victims of the obscene crime, including the family of the murdered boy, whose suffering has only begun. Those parts offer some of the book’s best prose, wise, unexpected and moving perspectives on tragedy and grief.

“They watched without talking, each in his own way exploring the edges of the hole that had appeared in their lives, so as not to fall in.”

But the suspect and his family also draw sympathy in their plight. Here, everyone is a victim. The tragedies of The Outsider are manifold. The crimes destroy surviving family members and people’s good name. It’s the final insult added to the injury, how seemingly innocent suspects become the object of hatred and anger. 

The sudden introduction of elements that seem otherworldly do little to lessen interest but may prompt the reader to wonder what kind of book they are reading. The answer will become clearer with each chapter. Genre aside, it’s most definitely a solid page-turner. It hooks you. It’s also damn spooky. The phrase ’straws for eyes’ alone is enough to give one shivers. But like any detective story worth reading, it’s also an excuse to send people around, meeting other people, asking questions from witnesses and incidentally painting little portraits of life outside of the limelight. And King is, of course, very good at that. 

In its attention to detail, The Outsider can occasionally also get … tedious. There are times when points are belaboured. Like the last Hodges book, it’s also a bold mix of the pragmatic and the supernatural, and may not be to everyone’s taste. For my own part, I’m frankly not exactly sure how I feel about it. But meeting Holly Gibney (from the aforementioned Bill Hodges books) again is great, and King once more excels at portraying a character inherently nervous and uneasy about human interaction, but very brave. Around her, a band of unlikely friends will form, bringing Bram Stoker’s Dracula to mind in more ways than one. 

At the end of it all, The Outsider is more akin to Doctor Sleep than Mr Mercedes. It’s a both moving and harrowing story with a thrilling climax. Whether or not you entirely “buy it” may be a matter of taste. 

Joyland (2013)

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”

The melancholia instantly leaps off the page in this tale of youth, broken hearts and a rickety amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. King’s knack for transporting you to a place and time, and a mood, is on full display. Written in the first person perspective, it recounts a summer and fall in 1973 during which Devin Jones, “a 21-year-old virgin with literary aspirations”, works as a carny while trying to get over a girl. 

”Even when what you’re holding onto is full of thorns, it’s hard to let go. Maybe especially then.”

The writing is sympathetic and atmospheric, clear and uncomplicated; ‘this is what happened and how I felt about it’.  The start, where Devin visits the park for a job interview, is like an inverted version of The Shining. Nice people, spring around corner. 

Spring turns to summer, work begins, and to a large degree this is a story about a good summer. One of those summers that shine in retrospect. New friends, a fascinating place. Even ‘wearing the fur’, dressing up as the park’s canine mascot to amuse the kids, suits Devin. Ominous comments from the fortune teller and a broken heart notwithstanding, this has all the makings of a great experience. 

But there’s also the actually haunted horror house and the horrific tragedy that occurred there. And Devin’s inability to forget the girl and move on. He thinks staying on at the amusement park after summer will help with that.  A seaside amusement park in the fall. How very Morrissey. 

Devin wants be changed by facing something otherworldly and courts an encounter with the apparition said to be haunting Joyland. In Devin’s befriending a young boy with a serious illness and apparent telepathy, the writer introduces another subject typical to King, but it’s toned down and actually not what you’re likely to remember best about the book. That would probably be the colourful portrait of the amusement park and its characters and the depiction of youth itself.

This is prime King. Wise, empathetic, crude, poetic, lively and eerie. Near the end it delivers themes more in keeping with the Hard Case Crime label (an imprint under which The Colorado Kid was also published),  but at this point it’s clear that King was never interested in writing just a murder mystery. Big surprise. It is ‘thrilling’ in surprising ways alongside the expected ones. Will a good deed work out for the best? That kind of way. 

The finale, with its echoes of a scene from a famous movie not named here, and the touching epilogue confirms that this book really, really needs to be filmed. Done right, it would be wonderful.

As is the book. I would in fact describe it as the perfect antidote after reading Revival (published in the same year). There are some common themes (looking back from the sad vantage point of old age being among them), and Joyland has its share of violence and chills, but it also offers hope and beauty. Call me crazy, but I prefer that. 

Just after sunset (2008)

It took me an inexplicably long time to finish this collection of short stories, but looking back I realise that most of them left an impression.

Like The Gingerbread Girl, a short, effective thriller about grief and a serial killer. Or Harvey’s Dream, both mundane and shiver-inducing. Graduation afternoon is a short, brilliant gem about how everything can change in an instant. The Things They Left Behind is a strange but pretty moving take on 9/11.

There are a couple of low-key guesses on what the afterlife might have in store (muted but optimistic compared to Revival) and a confessional tale about telling the wrong story to a hitchhiker. N., related to but not as devastating as the aforementioned Revival, combines Lovecraft and Machen with a fantastic (and possibly dangerously contagious) evocation of OCD. Atmospheric to say the least.

The Cat from Hell is apparently a golden oldie, finally collected. A trifle, but captivating while it lasts.

Ayana recounts a tale long untold, because it is ’unbelievable’, and its opening description alone of seeing a once vital father diminished by illness makes it memorable. It’s about miracles or, as doctors call them, ‘misdiagnosis’. It’s a short story in length as well as in how it foregoes explanation in favour of mystifying ‘anecdote’.

The last story is set in Florida, like the contemporary Duma Key, and also sports a well-off but troubled protagonist. It turns out to be a sibling of sorts to The Gingerbread Girl, but more disgusting. But engaging. But very disgusting …

Through all if it, King’s ear for dialogue and eye for detail brings the characters and settings to life. Bitter people, happy people, highways and highrises. Even if King didn’t have any stories to tell here, the writing would make it worthwhile. But he does. With the possible exception of Stationary bike.

In true King fashion, the collection ends with some enlightening, personal notes on the origin and meaning of the stories. His generosity in inviting the readers into the creative process has always been part of his appeal.

Revival (2013)

“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 …

Olderposts

Copyright © 2022 Palaver's Stephen King blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑