Thursday, November 13, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

Photo: The book's cover art, from its Wikipedia page

Another compulsively-readable book by Stephen King, Revival is one of his recent best.  A mish-mash of Frankenstein (thematically) and Lovecraft (in plot, Otherness, and The Angry Ones, as well as some fairly fearsome Gods) and Hieronymus Bosch, it reads like a first-person confessional (which is a well King has tapped for some time now) and it ends with one of the more horrifying things that King--or anyone I've read--has ever written.
Especially if it's true, if that's really what's waiting for us Afterwards.  If you've ever seen Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins or his Garden of Earthly Delights, you'll know what I mean.  Nasty, disturbing and memorable stuff.  This book's ending--and the potential ending for us all, good or bad--are just that: nasty, disturbing and memorable.  Frightening, because the "good" or "bad" doesn't matter.  The ending depicted here isn't the ending of the bad.  It's the ending of all of us.

In recent interviews, King has said that the views expressed by the narrator are not necessarily his--a fact that any reader is well aware, in anyone's writing.  But he has also said recently that he thinks about Death and God a lot (which King fans have always known), and that he does believe in God.  Sometimes he says that there has to be a God, because otherwise he would not have survived his accident or his addictions.  (This begs the question: Since others have not survived being hit by a car, or concurrent alcohol and coke addictions, does that mean there isn't a God?  Or does God simply not want them to live?)  Lately, King's been using Pascal's Wager to express his views.
(Pascal's Wager has always seemed like a cop-out to me, but it's really not meant to be.  And as I get older, and I contemplate that slab of stone more and more, Pascal's Wager sounds infinitely more rational.  Though I don't know how one can live a life as if one believes in God, which is what the Wager advises, if one truly does not believe.  But I suppose an agnostic like myself could pull it off.)

This is actually not much of a digression, as a belief in Something is very much at the core of this novel.  Picture an agnostic who grew up with devout, religious parents, and throw in some family tragedies, a wasted life of coke and booze, and some Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, with Bosch's view of a potential eternity in Hell and a Frankenstein theme, and some hellish chaos on Earth at the very un-Stephen King-like end (after all the Frankenstein / Lovecraft / Bosch stuff), and you've just about got the narrator and his story.

There are some other horrors until then as well, neatly tucked into this novel.  There's a car accident you won't soon forget, and a dream about dead family members that those of us with dead family members will all relate to--and not happily.  And his ending after the ending (a writing style I've pointed out in my last ten or so reviews of King's work) is even more unforgettable.  It's debatable, in fact, if the first or second ending is more horrible.  Since I don't believe in the existence of the first, and since I very much believe in the existence of the evil--or of, worse, the tragic inexplicable--portrayed in the second, I'm going with the latter.  You watch the news, you see this.

The writing is as compulsively-readable as always, but--finally!!!--here are some horrors, terrors and chills, too.  If forced to rate out of five stars, I'd say this is a four--only if compared to his truly great stuff, like IT and The Shining.  But compared to his most recent stuff--some of it quite terrible, and sometimes, at best, rather pedestrian--Revival would get five.  Though the title refers to the revival of the narrator and a few of its almost-dead characters, it could well refer to King's horror writing as well.

Read it, regardless.  And then Wikipedia Pascal's Wager, if you have to, and tell me whether it makes more pragmatic, rational sense than it may have in your youth.

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