A six-year-old boy playing with his toy soldiers in the front yard is interrupted by a visitor, the new minister at the family church. The Rev. Charles Jacobs is bright and energetic, with his pretty wife and young son completing a picture-perfect family. The six-year-old, Jamie Morton, will become enthralled by Jacobs and his twin passions, for God and electricity. Conducting youth service in the church basement, Rev. Jacobs spices up his scripture lessons with his various electrical toys and experiments, including a toy Jesus that can be made to walk across the water.
Jacobs and Jamie both lose their faith after a terrifying accident befalls the minister’s family. After delivering a scorched-earth sermon denouncing the Almighty, Rev. Jacobs leaves town and Jamie Morton doesn’t see him for more than two decades. In between he’s become a professional musician, touring the country as a rhythm guitarist for a number of bands. He’s also become a drug addict. Jacobs in turn has become a traveling carnival act, roping in yokels with his electrical tricks.
The two men’s paths continue to intersect, in frightening and suspicious ways. Jamie becomes increasingly distrustful of Jacobs and terrified by the audacity of his experiments. When Jacobs starts traveling around the country offering miracle cures, Jamie begins researching his results and becomes enraged by what he finds. Yet still Jacobs has a tremendous pull over Jamie and no qualms about exploiting it.
Jamie soon discovers the real intent of Jacobs’s experiments and is coerced into helping bring them to completion. The former reverend, it turns out, is dabbling with elemental forces and the fundamental questions of existence. It all leads to a resolution that is shocking, bone-chilling, and frankly, a little ridiculous too.
Even for Stephen King, this is a strange, strange book. It’s made all the stranger by how sudden and outrageous the final reveal is. I’m not sure Revival is great literature or even better-than-average King, but that ending will definitely stay with me a long time.