Stephen King, the ever-prolific maestro of horror, has turned to one of the genre’s deepest and strangest roots for his latest piece, “Revival.” The story’s tone is set almost immediately by the dedication, in which King pays respect to the masters who, “built [his] house.” Amongst the names are Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, August Derleth and of course, the man to whom the book owes much, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. This influence is made all the more apparent on the very next page, which contains a couplet straight from Lovecraft himself.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange eons, even death may die.”
“Revival,” follows a man named Jamie Morton; starting in a small Maine Town, which really shouldn’t surprise any avid readers of King, in the year 1962 when the protagonist is only six years old. After the opening chapters the book goes through many time skips, following Jamie Morton through various periods of his life from adolescence to middle age in the present day. The windows into the various periods of his life open around Jamie’s interactions with the novel’s other primary character, Charles Jacobs. Jacobs starts out as the young new pastor in Jamie’s hometown church, enthusiastic and energetic after arriving with his wife and toddler in that small New England town. Outside of his ministerial duties, Jacobs also has a hobby for tinkering with electricity and gadgets, bordering on an obsession.
After a tragic accident causes Jacobs to lose his faith and deliver the Terrible Sermon, as Morton remembers it, he drops off the map for a few decades. Then, in 1992, a drugged out 36-year-old Morton runs into his old pastor again at the Tulsa State Fair and the novel’s plot of the strange and unknown truly takes hold.
Those familiar with King will also be unsurprised by the less than clean hobbies that Morton got into over the course of his early life. Morton fits firmly into King’s archetypal protagonist; an artist with substance abuse problems. In this case, Morton is a musician and his poison of choice is heroin, for a while anyway. In his second encounter with Jacobs, Morton finds that the former preacher’s hobby has developed far beyond simple novelties and begun delving into strange, unknown forces.
Jacobs, and the story itself, follows another archetype, but not one of King’s. The duo of a man obsessed with mysteries and his unwitting assistant, whose duty is to survive witnessing horrible and unknowable events and live to insist that he isn’t insane, is a pattern found in the eldritch fiction of Lovecraft. “Revival,” is more that just an homage to Lovecraft, it’s essentially a modern retelling of his fiction. Themes found throughout the ascetic New Englander’s short stories lurk darkly within King’s novel. Fear of the unknown, science revealing a little too much of the universe and the futility of human life. This macabre crew is all present for “Revival.”
“Revival,” isn’t an action-packed thrill fest. There aren’t monsters waiting behind every page, there isn’t a triumphant final battle for survival and our protagonist definitely doesn’t get a happy ending. Instead it is a slow and creeping descent into madness that is built up over the course of the novel.