Review by Billy Lyons
“Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a phrase meant to be taken quite literally in Stephen King’s brilliant, yet disturbing, 2014 novel Revival. Man or woman, young or old, hero or villain, sinner or saint; we’re all damned.
Revival tells the story of Jamie Morton, and how his life is shaped by an on-again, off-again relationship with the Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jamie first meets Jacobs a few days after his sixth birthday when Jacobs, the new minister of the local Methodist church, stops by to introduce himself. The two quickly become fast friends.
Jamie first learns of the reverend’s fascination with electricity when Jacobs heals Jamie’s deaf brother with a strange electronic contraption of his own creation. He gives God all the glory for the miracle, but the awed tone in his voice as he describes the mystery behind the machine suggests that it’s very likely the good reverend’s devotion has switched to something besides Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Everything changes for both Jamie and Jacobs when a tragic automobile accident takes the life of Jacob’s wife and son. Shortly after their funeral, a bitter Jacob returns to the pulpit and delivers what will forever be known as The Terrible Sermon, in which he renounces his faith and suggests that if his congregation wants to believe in something real they should turn to the infinite power of electricity. He is summarily fired and quietly leaves town for parts unknown.
After The Terrible Sermon, Jamie throws his faith to the wind as well. From here, we follow these characters through a winding path of mystery surrounding the true power behind Jacob’s new faith.
Revival is perhaps King’s most terrifying work to date, mainly due to the insidious nature of the horror found between its covers. At first, readers will find the story similar to much of King’s writing, chock full of themes of redemption, youth’s inherent innocence, and love. This comfortable familiarity only serves to suck the reader into a false sense of security, so much so that when the hammer finally drops, he or she is completely unprepared for the sheer terror that is the last thirty pages of the book.
If there is one criticism of Revival, it is that its protagonist Jamie Morton is achingly similar to those found in other King novels. Once could very easily take Jamie Morton and replace him with Dan Torrance from Doctor Sleep, Edgar Freemantle from Duma Key, or Dale Barbara from Under the Dome and no one would know the difference. The idea of the beleaguered, worn-down, genuinely nice guy who must find redemption by fighting his way out of some supernaturally-fueled existential crisis is starting to wear a little thin.
Even so, the writing is brilliant, the story captivates from beginning to end, and King proves yet again that he can scare the living hell out of his readers any time he takes a notion. Revival is a masterpiece of supernatural fiction, one that further cements King’s reputation as one of the greatest writers of our generation.
Still, there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I’d never read it. This is especially true late at night, when I lay in bed unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about those last thirty pages.
When this happens, I often think back to the prayer of my youth, the one that contains the words: If I should die before I wake. And if I should, where would I find myself? In Heaven, Hell, or, if Revival is to be believed, “the land beyond death, a place full of insane colors, mad geometry, and bottomless chasms where the Great Ones live their endless, alien lives, and think their endless, malevolent thoughts”?
Billy Lyons started reading at age three and fell in love with weird tales soon after. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology from The Citadel and George Mason University, respectively. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, and Stephen King. His story “Black-Eyed Children, Blue-Eyed Child” appears in High Strange Horror. He is seeking a publisher for his debut novel, The Junkie Vampires, which he loosely describes as True Blood meets Trainspotting. Billy lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with his brother and their two cats.