Book Review: Revival

revivalI 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.

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What was she thinking…

I love stories; I always have. In 1977 I was 4 years old and my mother took me to see Star Wars (not referred to as Star Wars: A New Hope) and it was like my imagination had been set on fire. For months my favorite activity was coloring pictures inspired by the movie. My mother tried to get me to draw pictures of “real things” like houses, dogs, cats and airplanes but I was more interested in X-Wings, Tie Fighters and thousands of Jedi stick figures with multi-colored light sabers clashing in imagined conflict.

Before my 5th birthday I handed my mother a spiral notebook and asked her to write a Star Wars story, she told me that she didn’t have one to tell. I further explained to her that I wanted her to write down my story. I sat on the edge of the bed and dictated an adventure story to my mother. My mother filled 4 notebooks with my stories, usually little tales that went with my crayon drawings or the latest adventure my action figures went on.

One could say that those were my very first attempts at writing.

My eagerness to write slipped into the shadows as life became filled with school, friends, the constant moving and well normal (for me) existence. I developed a deep love for books, Roald Dalh’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first chapter book I read from cover to cover without assistance, I had just turned 6.

After that I was off to the races and read everything I could get me hands on. I devoured every Roald Dalh book at the library, then moved on to Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, Robert C. O’Brien, Astrid Lindgren and then there were the series Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (I was an equal opportunity reader). When I was 9 I discovered Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin and a young boy named Taran who was an Assistant Pig-Keeper. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander was the the first group of books that I didn’t just read but I reread them over and over again.

By 11 I was so hungry for stories that I would pester anyone I saw with a book in their hands to tell me about what they were reading; my mother was usually caught the brunt of this. My mother was a avid reader too and there was always a paperback in her hands. She loved mysteries, Agatha Christie was a constant favorite; but she was also a fan of Frank Herbert and Stephen King. My mother had a ready at hand answer for my “What are you reading? And what is it about?” questions.

She would show me the cover of the book and then say, “If you want to know what it is about you can read it when I am done.”.

Oddly enough I don’t see much of a problem with an 11 year old reading Agatha Christie. But looking back I don’t know what my mother was thinking when she handed a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand to a a kid a month away from his 12th birthday. It was a tough read and I can honestly say at the time I didn’t understand all of it (that was probably a good thing) but I was hooked. Before my 13th birthday I had blazed through ‘Salem’s Lot, Cycle of the Werewolf, Cujo, The Talisman, The Gunslinger and Firestarter… again I will say that I don’t know what my mother was thinking letting me read all of those. I also tried to read Dune, I say tried because that book defeated me 3 times before I was able to read it through and “get it”.

All of these books, authors and questionable parenting brought me to a tiny local bookstore, I rode my bike there at least once a week with my chore dollars, during a warm (it was Texas so let’s call it hot) September day in the year 1986. The owner of the shop had just gotten a delivery and was unboxing these monstrously thick hardcovers. The dust jacket was embossed, I still remember the feel of the slight bumps, and displayed a newspaper boat in a gutter with a clawed three fingered “hand” gripping a sewer grate, in gray bold letters on the top was the author’s name, Stephen King (of course) and the title just below in a red ragged typeface the title, IT.

I had the first copy out of the box and spent every dime I had, including the 5 dollars I kept stuffed in the toe of my left shoe, school had started and I was usually a victim of stolen lunch money so I learned to sock away (sorry but true and funny) a few dollars just in case. I could barely wait to get home to start reading it.

Outside of the Bible it was the longest book I had ever read and boy did I read that book. Every waking moment not committed to school, eating (sometimes), football practice (cause I did live in Texas) and sleep (even that time was co-opted on occasion) I spent laying on my stomach with the book propped on a pillow in front of me. I couldn’t wait to read just a few pages, I thought about it all day, wondering what would happen next.

I also realized that the characters in the book started feeling like friends to me. Perhaps it was the fact that half the book was written about them as children within spitting distance of my own age, maybe because it was just so bloody detailed. Either way it was the first book that when I got to those last few pages I had a hard time reading the words because my eyes were filled with tears. In part because of what was happening in the story but mostly because when it was done it was going to be done. There would be no more Bill, Ed, Ben, Stan, Richie and Bev; we I got to the end it was THE END.

I was sad with the loss but I was also angry at Stephen King for introducing these neat kids to me and then taking them away from me with those ugly two words. I moped around for days then I experienced an epiphany. If Stephen King could think up a bunch of kids, reach out to me (readers) through the page and have the kind that kind of power/control why couldn’t I?

That day I sat down at my Smith Corona typewriter and loaded a sheet of onion skin paper (it was all I had) and hammered out the first 20 pages (single spaced, with next to no margin) of a story called The Dreamers. It was about a group of friends, inspired by people I had been friends with, who were reincarnated heroes from a Middle Earth like world. I would flip and flop between “Real World” chapters and “Fantasy” chapters. That first day 20 pages had just burst out of me and the days that followed added to the pile. I had to buy more paper and learned how to replace the ink ribbons of the typewriter and the purpose of liquid paper. I ignored the world when I was sitting in front of that typewriter.

The Dreamers was the first story, book, novel I ever wrote. It finished up at 322 pages and was a real painful thing to read. But it was mine and I loved it. I loved the process. I loved the way I lost myself in the writing. Since then I have always written stories, sometimes life creeps up and demands attention but I still find joy in plopping down in front of my laptop and hammering out a few hundred words of some story. Every once and again I wonder if someday another reader will come across one of my stories, maybe Ocean House, and say “Hey, I can do that!”

I don’t know what my mother was thinking let me read those books at such a young age. But, I thank her for it.

– Brian

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