Revival, Stephen King

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stephen King's latest novel continues his long tradition of using events from his own life to inform the lives of his extremely well-crafted and believable characters.  Revival is the story of fanaticism and addiction and magic (or science?  Magical science?  Scientific magic?).  The main character is Jamie, who first meets Rev. Jacobs when he is a young boy living in a small town with his parents and siblings.  Rev. Jacobs and his young wife take over the struggling church in town, and turn it into a thriving congregation, complete with an active youth ministry.  All of the young people in town love Rev. Jacobs and his beautiful, talented wife, and they are taken in by his adorable little boy.  When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, Rev. Jacobs preaches a sermon that gets him driven out of town.

Years later, Jamie is a strung-out rock guitarist who is one high away from being incarcerated or dead. When he stumbles upon the Rev. Jacobs at a carnival, he can barely believe what he's seeing. The former minister has taken his lifelong fascination with electricity and devised some truly amazing optical illusions.  But that's not all Charles Jacobs has discovered.  The man formerly known as Rev. Jacobs thinks he can help Jamie with his little addiction problem, but the help will come at a price that Jamie isn't sure he's willing to pay.

King himself famously dealt with an addiction to pain killers after a near-fatal car accident left him in near constant pain for years as he recovered.  Jamie's drug addiction certainly mirrors his experience to a certain extent, but it is Rev. Jacob's addiction that is the truly frightening part of this story.  While this story is not horror in the traditional sense, there is that element of the supernatural that infuses almost all of King's works in some way.  This time the "magic" is presented in the guise of science that we don't yet understand, and highlights the dangers of playing around with natural forces without really understanding the possible consequences.

The story also explores the nature of faith, both in the opening section when Jamie is a child, and later in the book when the Rev. Jacobs becomes a faith healer.  The power that Jacobs had was terrifying, but couched in the language and ritual of religion people were more than willing to be taken in.  People who are desperately searching for an end to their fear, pain, and despair become easy marks for a con man.  But was it a con?  If people really were healed, did it matter where the power came from? When Jamie discovered that the people who were healed didn't always stay that way, he became determined to stop Jacobs.  Determined, that is, until it was his own high school sweetheart who needed help.  As usual, King shines a light on human nature in all of its flawed beauty.

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