Book review: Revival

Revival Revival by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, I’m back on the King train. I’d fallen off it when I was in my early 20s – I feel his readership is probably most vehement about keeping up in its teens, as I was – and it had been years. I read From A Buick 8 some time ago and really enjoyed it. Since then, though, there’s been thirteen-odd books – four (including one out later this year) since the time Revival was written.

It’s hard to keep up, is what I’m saying. Also, I’m not sure I’d pick Revival as the book to jump back in on.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. It really isn’t. It just takes a very long time for anything to start to tick over. There’s a long, long set-up period in the novel – I was 130-odd pages in and the meat of the story had yet to cook – and the pacing remains odd throughout.

In the opening of the book, King nails his colours to the mast: Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, Bloch and Machen are all mentioned. It’s not clear until you finish, but this is a cap-W Weird tale, with all the hand-waving silliness and cosmic horror that entails. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, because there are some good images within (especially if you’re familiar with the authors mentioned), but it’s a more mannered fright than the check-under-your-bed-before-sleeping reaction some of his other works generate.


Note the fretboard markers.

What we’re reading, in Revival is a couple of things looped together: remembrance and criticism of religion, and of addiction. Invention and wonder. The transformative power of strumming fuck out of an E chord, loud, and of playing music. Electricity. The pulpy joy of Lovecraftian mythos. And, really, small-town life.

This last is something King has always had an eye for, and it’s done very well here – I can see the cars, sense the boredom of church fellowship meetings, buy the time spent in childhood waiting for things to happen. It’s something he’s very good at, and it’s enjoyable – it just goes on a bit long here. When the story does get going – the initial length does create a bond that informs the later action – it’s a story of carnies and faith-healing and suspicion. And the other main character in the book is pretty well drawn, but some of the action he’s involved in feels quite similar to a lot of what went on in Needful Things.

It’s difficult to review King novels, I find. Particularly later ones. He’s the sort of colossal author who is, like The Cure, vastly important to almost everyone with an interest in spookiness, at some part in their life. I suspect people have their go-to King fixations which they reread again and again (hello, The Shining, and IT, despite the obvious ick-factor) and then belt through others because they’re decent tales. Where really, you’re hoping for something that has the same sting as the first time you hit upon Jack Torrance, say. The guy’s got such a storied back catalogue that it’s hard to view newer works without the shadow cast by the old faithfuls.

There were good things in this book, it’s just that it seems to bury them towards the end. Well, that’s not entirely true, as the musical stuff was in focus early on. But to dig that I think you probably have to have played some music, so that the familiarity of the descriptions sparks something special. The pacing is odd, and there seems to be less willingness to get to the story than I’ve found in other of his books. True, I read it in almost one sitting, but it didn’t have the drive towards the end that characterises some of his best work.

I guess this is partially due to the authors mentioned in the beginning of the book: Lovecraft was great at creating a world but not so hot on a) ending a story or b) revealing cosmic horrors to anyone’s satisfaction. Revivalseems to be a work in this neck of the woods, so it is perhaps the case that the frustrations are partof the type of story told, rather than a side-effect.

I’ll be interested to see if the film adaptation – Russell Crowe is meant to be attached? – brings a bit more electricity to the tale. As it stands, this is a good read if you’re either a muso or have a lit-boner for weird fiction, but it seems oddly half-charged for something which claims to crackle with energy.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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