I’ve been a bookstore wanderer as long as I can remember. As a kid, I’d peruse the bestseller shelf at the front of the store, and notice there was one name I could always count on seeing there: Stephen King. I’d stare at the intriguing cover art of his latest #1, and I knew I was too young to read it, but couldn’t wait to be old enough to finally unravel the mystery I’d built in my head around his name. Who was Stephen King? Why was he such a big deal? Why was I so drawn to his work? My mother (also a bookworm) was often buried in his novels, and together we watched many film adaptations of them – we must’ve watched Misery 100 times. In my late teens, I finally understood it: I read Carrie, Firestarter, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and The Shining in a week. It all made sense. He was ‘such a big deal’ because he was (is) incomparable. No one writes like King, no one could try. He is the master of fear at the deepest human level. I recently took on his latest novel Revival, and if it showed me one thing, it’s that even after all these years, Stephen King’s still got it.
Revival begins with 6-year-old Jamie Morton meeting Reverend Charlie Jacobs for the first time. The entire town loves Charlie (and his beautiful wife and adorable son), but Jamie and Charlie have a special relationship, despite being close to two decades apart in age. They just click. Both are curious, intelligent, talented, and surrounded by loving families. Both have a lot to lose, and do. When a devastating tragedy befalls Charlie, he reacts as anyone would, and unintentionally destroys his reputation and winds up leaving the town (and Jamie). Revival takes place over the 50 years following the first encounter between Jamie and Charlie, and explores the nature of the effects of tragedy, loss, and curiosity in a way that should be done more but isn’t. King uses brilliant and believable foreshadowing to demonstrate how every little choice we make adds up, and how people typically grow more into things as opposed to out of them if they don’t make a conscious decision to change direction. Jamie of course grows up and experiences his own struggles and losses, but the ways the two men have chosen to accept (and not accept) their lots in life are wonderfully and frighteningly juxtaposed. When their paths cross again, both men are at places in their lives that we the readers expected, but definitely didn’t see coming.
I couldn’t put this book down. From the first paragraph I was mesmerized. It came with me everywhere. It was in my backseat when I was driving, just in case I got stuck in traffic or behind a train – God forbid I had 5 free minutes and couldn’t spend it reading Revival! I will say the ending wasn’t quite what I anticipated, and originally after finishing it I did feel a little let down. But over the past couple of weeks, after having some time to absorb and reevaluate the story as a whole, I feel satisfied. I appreciate that the vision and the nightmare of Revival is a personal one, and this one belongs to Stephen King. And though I wouldn’t want to be inside his head, Revival put me there in a new way. I know what scares him. And it scares me too.