The Strange Quest to Cheat Death

Through the trials and machinations of a semi-lunatic pastor living in America of the 1960s, Revival explores ageing and dying

Published: 18th April 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2015 12:06 PM   |  A+A-

Strange Quest

Jamie Morton has just turned six and he’s playing with his birthday gift—a toy army—in the front yard of his family home in a small New England town. Suddenly a shadow falls over the soldiers and, looking up, he sees the newly appointed Reverend Charles Jacobs—who is to become a central character in Jamie’s life from then on, starting with him displaying before the town’s kids feats of electrical wizardry such as getting a toy Jesus to walk on water.

Preaching to the small Methodist parish, Rev. Jacobs is uniformly liked by kids and adults, until the tragic day when his picture-pretty wife and toddler son are practically shredded in a horrific accident. The unhinged pastor starts preaching against the Church— “Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so—pardon the pun—so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.”

Strange.jpgWhen he’s dismissed from service and leaves town, Jamie is truly sorry, particularly since the charismatic Jacobs affected a miraculous cure on his older brother who, after a mishap, had gone mute.

Gradually putting the preacher out of his mind, Jamie grows up, joins a cover band, falls in love, breaks up, leaves the small town and becomes a touring bar musician—never quite famous, but with enough gigs to feed a growing heroin habit. Until one day when he’s sacked from the band that has had enough of his drugging. Almost broke, Jamie bumps into Jacobs, who now performs miraculous stunts with electricity to the amusement of punters. He uses one of his gizmos to cure Jamie of the addiction—electrocuting his brain with a cosmic force that he’s allegedly managed to harness. There are only minor side effects, such as sleepwalking.

Years later, Jamie comes across the Reverend again, who is now undertaking faith healings while touring with his own circus tent and gospel singers. This is the point where one begins to suspect that there is something evil about his miraculous powers and soon Jamie learns horrifying things; the believers are the preacher’s lab rats and many have experienced terrible side effects.

Jamie tries to confront the Reverend but is slowly pulled into his web. Reviving people dying from diseases such as cancer seems like an activity too good to be true, and what is too good to be true is usually… .

Stephen King’s is a wondrous imagination and while his book propels the reader forward through its sheer page-turning quality, I found myself frequently stopping to reflect on the beautiful detailing: whether it’s the way the author recreates the mind of a child growing up in the 1960s rural US, the jaded rock guitarist’s lifestyle, the strange electrical contraptions that the semi-lunatic pastor constructs, or the philosophical passages debating religious practices and their active ingredients, namely faith and ritual.

Though King started out as a genre writer—specialising in pure horror—it is by now clear that he’s become one of America’s finest literary novelists. I was more than a bit surprised that, unlike some of his previous books, Revival contains a minimal amount of gore. I expected cadavers and chills in every chapter; instead I found in King a stylish and restrained author.

The most striking aspect is witnessing the protagonist growing old (towards the end of the book we’re in present time with Jamie pushing sixty) and the changes in his life and in the people around him. At one point, Jamie, our first-person narrator, informs us that ageing is a bit like boiling a frog: “You put it in cold water, then start turning up the heat. If you do it gradually, the frog is too stupid to jump out.” This entertaining and thought-provoking novel is, ultimately, about ageing and dying—and the human wish to cheat death in order to live forever.


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