I have read a lot of Stephen King’s work: novels, novellas, short stories and even a screenplay or two. Most of it is very enjoyable; though there is some that I found tedious (Tommyknockers, I’m looking at you). I would not classify myself as the type of fan that buys his latest book on the street date but I would say with some confidence that I am a Constant Reader.
Recently I came down with a King itch and started rereading some of my favorites: The Stand, IT, Dr. Sleep and 11/22/63. When I was finished with the mad sprint I found the itch wasn’t satisfied so I threw ‘Salems Lot at it only to find that it was getting stronger (the more you itch the worse it gets). I figured that a new King book was the only thing that would work, so I picked up Revival. Here are my thoughts on the novel.
King is so prolific that I imagine that it is next to impossible to not fall into the pattern of relying on favorite turns of phrases and after reading a mess of his books all at once I found myself keying in on the repetition. Not a big deal and not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was just something I noticed. I am not talking about the broad inclusions like what he had done with the “Dark Tower” or the little Easter Eggs that tie his books together into a larger tapestry. I am talking about little things like using “Eeek a freak”. I suppose for him it is like putting on a favorite pair of boots. In my very long winded and wandering way I am saying that Stephen King’s finger prints were all over the book (of course they were he wrote it); they were more like freshly dusted finger prints, not the partial prints on the edge of a bullet casing found buried in a pile of fall leaves. I noticed it and enjoyed the near constant reminders in the language that I was reading a Stephen King novel.
One of the things I enjoyed about the story itself was the length of the fuse he put on the creepy, spooky stuff. The narrator did a good job of setting the stage for the creep feast waiting the in wings, reminded you that it was going to happen and kept you turning pages with frightening ease so you could get to the pay off.
An observation I made was that King’s protagonists have been getting quite a bit older recently. There really isn’t a problem with this; however, I do sometimes struggle with the mental image of men in their mid to late fifties being as active as these characters are getting. It makes sense of course, King is getting older and as an author/writer the skin of a 20 years might feel a tad tight when you look through the eyes of a 60 year old. I can almost image King sitting back and saying to his characters, “Listen, I have decided that just because your fifty-five years old that you have every right to put yourself endanger. After all why should the world only be saved by young people, that’s lame. Us old timers can be as good once and all that. So, pull up your plaid pants and hop to it.”
Back to the book in question, wow I am drifting a lot tonight. When you compare Revival to the other books of the King library — let’s face it not comparing would be impossible — you find a classic story that could be viewed as a more mature version of The Shining, Carrie or Pet Sematary. The problem is that King needs to top King; each outing is a contest against yourself. To put it another way, how do you out horror yourself when you have a mountain of stories and years of exposure in various mediums. His core audience has a “been there done that” chip firmly planted on their shoulders. The Constant Reader is a beast that is ravenous and is growing very picky.
For that very reason I struggled with the closure of the book. The set up was great, interesting and felt fresh and appropriately twisted. If I were able to read it in a vacuum I can see how a reader would be shocked or scared even unsettled by the thoughts being planted in their minds. For me though the ending felt rushed and almost half hearted. The characters were well rounded and I did have a real sense of their motivations the story on the whole was interesting, different enough to keep me reading and I did enjoy it; the ending was what kept it from being as good as it could have been. I did wonder if the bleakness that fogged the reveal (trying really hard not to spoil it) was coming from just the natural progression of the story or if King is struggling with his own thoughts of morality and used the book as a way to express them.
In short, it was a good Stephen King novel, which means that it better than nearly all of the other “thriller, suspense, horror” drek that is out there; however, it is not a great Stephen King novel. I would recommend it to a friend.