Revival – Stephen King

A tragedy could have you find faith in God because the bereaved want their loved-ones back, so cling to the idea they are still alive in the afterlife, or in heaven, or whatever. That’s probably the reason that religion remains popular. All the justifications and evasions of reason aside, religion allows you to survive death, and who wouldn’t want to survive that? Wondering what might happen to the faith of a minister of the church might have been King’s first thought when the idea for Revival came to him. What might happen to such a man’s faith if his wife and infant son are killed and horribly disfigured in a car crash? King has the human impulse clash somewhat with the party-line of faith – an interesting psychological cocktail – and has Reverend Jacobs deliver what his congregation come to call “The Terrible Sermon,” in which the contradictory positions of faith and reason become too much to cope with and the good Rev. Jacobs lets his flock have both barrels.

Like many of King’s settings, in Maine or not, this book starts in small-town, God-fearing, white-picket-fence America, where the bible-following folks don’t take too kindly to their pastor spitting out conclusions tainted with the poison of reason. Tragedy or not, the guy’s gotta git. The last person Jacobs says goodbye to is the novel’s narrator, Jaime Morton, who begins the novel age 6 and ends it knocking on the door of 60. We follow Morton across the decades as he struggles with his lifestyle choices, and are told of the moment his problems are solved by a chance meeting with Jacobs years after he left town.

Jacobs isn’t quite the same man who left town years ago.

King makes Jacobs a straightforward obsessive. He reminded me (in some ways) of Clyde Shelton, played by Gerard Butler, in Law Abiding Citizen. If you haven’t seen the film, then Shelton could be described as a man with a grudge and an obsession; where Jacobs has a significant obsession, but no grudge against any person, as such, he doesn’t care about humans at all. In addition to his obsession, he’s part Bond villain, part mad scientist, but never really shows any malice: humans are just objects to be used for the data they provide.

To say the ending is bleak would be an understatement. If the things we are shown existing on the other side of the tapestry really are waiting for us, then to say we are born into a losing struggle would be the least of it; but it’s unclear if the things the characters “see” during the book exist in (the novel’s) reality, or are some sort of “projection” the mind of the person involved offers because it is a mind damaged by tragedy. The novel could be a tale about sorrow and loss and how things affects people in their subconscious, with Jacobs’s tinkering just damaging the physical material, allowing the trap door to the subconscious to be thrown open.

Or it might not.

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