“Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables
At an age where many want nothing more than to settle into a retirement rhythm with daily rounds of golf and leisure, Stephen King is instead crackling through a period of remarkable productivity. Just over a year since Dr. Sleep and mere months after the publication of Mr. Mercedes, another King tale is about to hit the book stands.
This latest, Revival, is as engaging a late-night tale as all his stories are but also continues to build upon his trend towards higher levels of complexity within the understory. The occasional horror elements are present, of course; it wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if you didn’t find yourself closing your eyes and shuddering at least a few times during the reading. But Revival might actually be better classified as science fiction, in the tradition of the technological morality tales from the very birth of the genre, such as The Island of Dr. Moreau and Frankenstein.
The story begins with the meeting of a small boy, Jamie Morton, and a young preacher named Charlie Daniel Jacobs in a rural town in Maine. (To paraphrase a line King uses throughout the story “all this s**t starts in Maine.”) The preacher plays the role of the Fifth Business throughout the boy’s life, which is the arc of the story. “Fifth Business” is theatrical term meaning a minor supporting character who is actually essential to the plot—think of the villain in the ghost/monster/mummy costume who was always unmasked at the end of a Scooby-Doo episode.
Jacobs has a beautiful wife and infant son, a strong faith in the Lord, and a hobbyist’s interest in electricity. He initially uses the products of his experimental dabblings as props to preach the Good Word and shares his scientific and religious enthusiasm with his protégé Jamie. When a trademark King horrific accident claims the lives of his wife and son, Jacobs’s faith is stripped away like the electrons of a conductor. But as Aristole postulated, “Nature abhors a vacuum” and what fills the void left by the departure of Jacobs’s faith is a soulless obsession with electricity, the mind, and the very force of nature that comprises consciousness.
After preaching a final “Terrible Sermon,” a sort of anti-Sermon on the Mount, Jacobs departs from Jamie’s life for a long while. Jamie grows up, learns to play classic rock guitar well enough for a reasonably successful career in various cover bands, but falls into the trap of addiction. When he encounters Jacobs again, Jamie has nearly ridden the white horse into the grave, but Jacobs cures him mentally of his habit using one of his electrical experiments. Amazed and truly grateful, Jamie once again becomes Jacobs’s acolyte, but eventually learns of the darker sides of his mentor’s marvelous lightning cures and wonders.
Revival is at its heart a dark, cautionary tale warning against science without faith, morals or ethics. Jacobs’s humanity departed with his faith and he cares little for his experimental subjects. Jacobs is also no Nikola Tesla; he is not interested in truly understanding the phenomena he studies, only in the power it affords. As Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Revival is a powerful, phantasmagorical story of the death of faith and understanding.
Mr. King, we Constant Readers are profoundly grateful that you are not heeding the various sirens of retirement. Your fans would like to say, keep the faith and stay off the golf course, especially during lightning storms!