Being a faithful Constant Reader, I was surprised to come across a King novel that was unknown to me. Originally published in 2014, it fell within a brief period of my life where I didn’t read. The horror! So I picked this paperback up on Better World Books after knowing very little about it, other than it is said to have a truly epic and terrifying ending.
Revival follows the life of Jamie, a kid growing up in Maine who faithfully attends the local Methodist church with his family. The youthful and engaging pastor, Charles Jacobs, wins Jamie over early by wowing him with the power of electricity. You see, Pastor Jacobs is not just a man of god; he’s a man of science and imagination. All is going well until, tragically, Jacobs loses his wife and young son in a horrific car accident. The community is rocked and Jacobs is forever changed. Before he leaves town to start over, he delivers his Terrible Sermon:
And what do we get for our faith? For the centuries we’ve given this church or that one our gifts of blood and treasure? The assurance that heaven is waiting for us at the end of it all, and when we get there, the punchline will be explained and we’ll say “Oh yeah! Now I get it.” That’s the big payoff. It’s dinned into our ears from our earliest days: heaven, heaven, heaven! We will see our lost children, our dear mothers will take us in their arms! That’s the carrot. The stick we’re beaten with is hell, hell, hell! A Sheol of eternal damnation and torment. We tell children as young as my dear lost son that they stand in danger of eternal fire if they steal a piece of penny candy or lie about how they got their new shoes wet.
The Terrible Sermon is the pitiful scream of a man who has been crushed and lost his faith, and the start of his attempts to replace it with a powerful need to Know. It’s what drives Jacobs throughout the rest of the novel, as he and Jamie’s lives bounce off each other at irregular intervals.
The next time Jamie and Jacobs’ cross paths, Jamie is deep in the grips of a heroin addiction, and Jacobs is a carney using the power of electricity to wow the crowds at a state fair. Jacobs, harking back to his years of faith and desire to heal, takes Jamie under his wing and heals him of his affliction. His methods are mysterious, and his electrical experiments shrouded in mystery. All we know is that Jamie is no longer a junkie, but when Jacobs put those electrodes to his head… Something Happened.
King frequently references the old adage of the frog in a slowly boiling pot throughout Revival, which was apt. As a reader of this novel, I could subtly feel the heat and tension ratcheting up but it was never uncomfortable enough to outright scare me. It’s not until the final chapters, as the thunder strikes and the truth is revealed, that I realised how intensely I had been snared in King’s trap.
I finished this book on an innocuous Sunday morning. As I sat on my deck, surrounded by corgis, my family sleeping soundly inside, torrential rain poured down and thunder crackled menacingly overhead. It was the perfect backdrop for this conclusion to this novel, which ends in a crescendo of lightning and terror.
A truly good book transports you to another world. It makes it easy to see through another’s eyes, and glimpse the horrors that they see. Revival delivered this for me in a way few novels have. King has crafted a lovecraftian horror, with plenty of Mary Shelley lipservice. This Constant Reader is scared yet satisfied.
5 glowing purple lightning bolts out of 5.