Sunday, December 14, 2014

King's Electric Guitar Of Horror In The Key Of E


by Stephen King

4 out of 5 rubes would buy this book at a carnival.

From the synopsis on Stephen King’s website:

"This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written."

That’s a bold statement that sets the bar very high for Revival. So does it clear it?

Almost. I think. If it doesn’t then it comes damn close which still makes this a pretty impressive achievement for Uncle Steve at this point in his long career.

Jamie Morton first meets Reverend Charles Jacobs when he’s a 6 year old kid in Maine during the early ‘60s. Jacobs is a popular minister with a pretty wife and infant son, and he loves fiddling with electrical gadgets. Jamie and Jacobs have a bond from the moment they meet that is cemented later when Jacobs aids a member of Jamie’s family. After a tragedy drives Jacobs out of town, Jamie profoundly feels the loss, but time marches on. When he becomes a teenager Jamie discovers he has some musical talent and as an adult he makes a living as a rhythm guitar player in bar bands. But Jamie hasn’t seen the last of Jacobs as their paths cross again and again over the years and each strange encounter leaves Jamie increasingly worried about what Jacobs is up to.

I’ve seen complaints from some readers that this is too slow and that the ending doesn’t live up to the hype. I can understand why. The readers’ impressions of it are probably going to be determined by how well the punch King spends the entire book setting us all up for landed. If it was a glancing blow, then you’ll shrug it off. After all, there are no evil clowns or haunted hotels or telekinetic teenagers getting buckets of pig blood dumped over them. The book could almost be one of those VH1 Behind the Music bios about Jamie Morton if King doesn’t pull off the last act for you. 

But if that punch lands solidly… If, like me, King catches you squarely with that jab of an ending, then you’re going to be lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling with a bloody nose and spitting broken teeth as you mumble, “The horror….the horror…”

I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, and it could end fairly high in my personal ranking of King novels after some reflection. Probably not top five, but maybe top fifteen or even top ten. However, I think it’s got a serious chance of being the one I find the most disturbing of them all.

What made that ending so powerful?  WARNING - SPOILERS FOLLOW!

The idea that death is merely a doorway that has leads every person to a HP Lovecraft nightmare of an afterworld where all spend an eternity damned and enslaved is something that I’d think would the terrify everyone from the very religious to the skeptical atheist. Good or bad, believer or non-believer, we all end up in the same place. Death isn’t the gateway to the magical place where you’ll see grandma and all your pets again. It isn’t even a long dark dreamless sleep. It’s the start of a torment that will never end. And there is no escape from it.

That’s the kind of idea that could make even a writer like Cormac McCarthy break into tears as he wails, “King, you went too far!”

I think this has an extra jolt because Uncle Steve has never been shy about heaping misery on characters, but generally for him death is the end of it. Even in one of his other most disturbing books, Pet Semetary the message is that ‘Sometimes dead is better.’ Not this time. King wrote something where there is no safe harbor, no hope, no end…

But I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords….. (Sorry, it had to be said.)

Also posted at Goodreads.

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