Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Task: A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65)
I swear Stephen King gets better with age. Whilst he’s most well known for classic horrors like Carrie and The Shining, I started off with the more recent 11.22.63 and that still remains a firm favourite of his for me. And now this one. This one is good.
This story is dark. Really dark. Perhaps one of his darkest yet (although I can only comment on those I’ve read), but you wouldn’t necessarily realise it to begin with. This novel reads much more like a literary novel than some of his previous works. The writing is rich and it’s got a depth to it which of his novels some lack (and barely a typo in sight – yay!). This isn’t just a horror story; it’s a life story.
Revival is told from the point of view of Jamie Morton, and the story takes us from his early childhood, right through to his seventies. One man holds together the string of key events in Jamie’s life – the man he refers to as his fifth business, his change agent and his nemesis – Charles Daniel Jacobs.
“Sometimes a person…comes into your life…the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis. In the movies this sort of character is known as the fifth business, or the change agent. When he turns up in a film, you know he’s there because the screenwriter put him there. But who is screenwriting our lives? Fate or coincidence? I want to believe it’s the latter. I want that with all my heart and soul. When I think of Charles Jacobs—my fifth business, my change agent, my nemesis—I can’t bear to believe his presence in my life had anything to do with fate.”
King’s scene-setting and character-building in this novel is impeccable from the beginning, as he introduces us to a 1960s small town in New England, and a community which is intrigued and then rocked by the assignment of a new, particularly young, Reverend. That Reverend is Charles Jacobs, and during his time in the position he and Jamie form a strong bond, before the Reverend has to town in disgrace following an unfortunate sermon after the death of his wife and child.
One of my favourite early scenes was when Reverend Jacobs cures Jamie’s brother Con of his muteness. As he and his two siblings make the short journey to the Reverend’s house under the light of the full moon and enter the cold shed full of electrical inventions and contraptions, there’s a real sense of magic in the air, and I was on tenterhooks waiting to see what was going to happen.
As the novel goes on, we follow Jamie through his teenage years touring as a guitarist in a local band, and then to his speedy descent into heroin addiction. If I had to have one tiny criticism it would be this part – King flashes forward very quickly to the drug addiction, and I couldn’t really associate very well with junkie Jamie. But, he’s not around for long, because Jamie’s old fifth agent Jacobs comes back on the scene and cures his addiction instantly with a similar contraption to that used on Con.
Jacobs believes “Electricity is the basis for all life” and he is fascinated with pushing the boundaries of what it can do. It is his obsession with harnessing the power of electricity which is where the true horror of this story lies. While Jamie doesn’t share the obsession, he feels inextricably tied to him, and builds up a number of debts to Jacobs over the years for cures he has provided for Jamie and his loved ones. And so, whatever Jamie seems to do with his life – whether he is a down-and-out heroin addict or a middle-aged music producer – things always seem to circle back to Jacobs and his electrifying experiments.
But what is Jacobs’s ultimate aim? As the story progresses, that’s what it all hinges on. I’m not going to give it away here. About 50 pages from the end, I was convinced I knew exactly what Jacobs had planned for the grand finale. But, of course, King is anything but predictable and I was completely wrong. What I did get was something so dark and unsettling that I don’t think I ever could have imagined it. And that’s why Stephen King is truly one of a kind.