I'm feeling very ambiguous about Revival. It's far too ambiguous in parts, and not nearly ambiguous enough in others. It lacks any sort of subtlety in some aspects, and is much too subtle in others. Overall, this is a solid tale from Stephen King, but the monstrous epic I was hoping for is left lurking in the darkness, just off the page.
The first act is absolutely stellar, with King doing what he does best. When it comes to the portrayal of childhood and coming of age, I'm not sure there's anybody better. He manages to capture the whimsy and the innocence, as well as the weight of aging and expectations. As a natural extension of that, he builds and shapes his characters so well, we really come to identify with them, and to feel for them when tragedy strikes. That, of course, brings us to the question of horror and of tragedy, something few can portray as well as King. This act is vintage King, complete with stomach-churning horror ("Where's his face?" he cried. "Where's my little boy's face?"), and the heart-wrenching sorrow (Her blond hair was underground now, growing brittle on a satin pillow in the dark) that follow.
It's in the second act where, for me, the book falters. It's a slow, drawn-out act that really only serves to establish Jamie's addiction, as a set-up for his eventual revival. Personally, I'm sick of working through King's addictions, and tired of dealing with their endless explorations. We get it, he suffered through addictions that nearly destroyed him. He's struggled, he persevered, and he's come clean. Good for him. Those addictions just don't work to drive the plot anymore, and have become tiresome crutches for real horror. It doesn't help, of course, that even his one disgusting attempt to create a romantic memory for Jamie is so tied to those additions. Seriously, I felt like I going to vomit if I had to read one more time about Jamie getting a hard-on as Astrid blows smoke into his mouth while they lick each other's teeth.
As for the final act, it had serious potential. We get to see Jamie become a King-worthy hero, ready to sacrifice himself to save the woman he loves. At the same time, we get to see Jacobs become a King-worthy villain, an ordinary man dragged down into the depths of madness by his grief and his obsession. We even get some glimpses of vintage King nightmare fuel with the secret electricity, the forbidden grimoire, the rash of murder-suicides, and the glimpse of what lies on the other side of the door. Here is where we find the big, epic, game-changing horror that King does so well, but he's content to leave it in the shadows, just on the edges of the tale. At one time those horrors would have been the setting for the tale, as big a part of the horror as Jamie's loss and Jacob's obsessions, but here they're just background. It's frustrating, because there's an awesome story wrapped up in those details, but we don't get nearly enough of it.
Overall, Revival is a solid effort, with glimpses of vintage Stephen King, but it's far from "the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written" (as the cover blurb would have us believe). There's no doubt it's a page-turner, and the mystery of Jacobs and his secret electricity is strong enough to carry even the slowest parts of the second act. The climax here, though, is something that would have once been the only end of the first half of a bigger, darker, more epic tale . . . and I can't help but feel there's far more horror to be found post-revival.
Hardcover, 405 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Scribner