Book review: Revival by Stephen King

My other Halloween horror reads fell through, (I lost interest partway through in both cases) so I bought Revival as soon as I’d found it in pocket paperback, and I was pretty excited to read this because the blurb on the front said, “This is vintage King.” Considering how long it’s been since I’ve read and enjoyed a King novel, “vintage King” sounded pretty damn good to me.

But that blurb is a bold-faced lie. It’s possibly the mother of all whoppers. I want to stress, this is not a bad story and it kept me up for several nights using the old faithful “one more chapter” mantra. But this is not vintage King. Vintage King scared me so bad that I would spend weeks after each of his books afraid of the dark. Vintage King could give me nightmares based on the description of a single body. Vintage King is what made me hide my little brother’s paper mache clown in the bottom drawer of my dresser and never take it out again. Vintage King is what made me want to write my first book.

This is NOT vintage King. It’s not even fucking close. It is old fart King reminiscing about the good old days, and this is not the least bit scary. As a horror novel it’s an abject failure. As an Anne Rice history novel, it’s a huge success. It certainly has the same qualities as my favorite Anne Rice novels, which is to say 350 pages of history lesson with almost nothing in the present day story actually happening. But I like that kind of book, which is how I made it through 12 Anne Rice books without complaints. Had King gone on to some sci-fi mad scientist ending after his history class, I might have even given this book 4 stars.

But on the last 50 pages, King jerks off on Lovecraft’s corpse, as so many horror writers today do. “Unf! Old ones! MADNESS! Lawdy, ain’t you scared now!” Eh…no. Not even close, man. I know King has a habit of blowing endings, a habit I forgive him for, but going to that particular overpumped well annoyed me so bad that I was tempted to give the book 2 stars. I’m even further tempted because this book is never remotely scary. Ever. No, EVER. It’s not even creepy. The thing that annoys me most is, there’s a scene early on where King must have thought, “Oh wait, I haven’t made this scary. Let me insert a mandatory gore scene.” Problem is, it’s so badly shoehorned in using a third person account of a CAR ACCIDENT twenty years after the event that the whole time I’m reading it, instead of imagining the gory visual, I was instead thinking, “This is such bullshit.”

This dude retired because he said he’d run out of ideas. I do not entirely agree with that notion because he can still write a story that will keep me up until the crack of dawn turning pages for “just one more chapter.” But I would agree that his days in horror are over because I’ve had scarier bouts of intestinal gas. And I’ll also say that this is almost a master class in taking a short story premise and stretching it out over 460 page using bullshit alone. It’s quality bullshit, and Stephen King is a professional bulshitter with considerable bullshitting prowess. Even so, the core premise of a mad scientist who tampers with the veil beyond death and pays the price for it is fucking twenty pages tucked at the back of the book while the rest is all padding in the hope that the reader might feel more emotionally invested in the characters. Even if I was kept up all night several times, the actual punchline left me groaning “Really? That’s what you’ve been leading this up to, a quick spunk on Lovecraft’s grave?”

I’ll give Revival 3 stars. As I said, I really want to give it 2 for the ending, but I will admit that the history lesson wasn’t all bad. It just reminded me mostly of vintage Rice, and that’s not something I thought I’d ever be saying about Stephen Motherfucking King.