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Stephen King returns to his roots

'Revival' balances terror and thought

By Devon Shuman, For The Miami Student

Stephen King may have turned 67 this year, but by no means is he letting his foot off the gas.

To call the master of horror prolific would be an understatement. His latest story, "Revival," will be his 66th full-length novel and second of 2014, yet it packs just as powerful a punch as the rest.

Without giving too much away and spoiling Mr. King's devilish fun, "Revival" follows a boy named Jamie Morton who, at a young age, befriends his town's new reverend, Charlie Jacobs. Jamie gets to know Charlie through his passionate weekly sermons, his interactive Methodist youth fellowship meetings, and his keen interest in experiments involving electricity. One day, after a horrible accident only the King of thrills and chills could dream up, the reverend delivers a terrible sermon that loses him his job.

Further down the road, Jamie and Jacobs' paths cross again and Jamie discovers that although his old reverend may have given up on religion, his interest in electricity has developed into a dangerous obsession, reminiscent of that of Dr. Frankenstein.

Despite trying his hand at detective fiction with June's "Mr. Mercedes," King is really returning to his roots here. Sprawling across five decades and all over the United States, "Revival" has all the workings of a classic Stephen King story: beginnings at a small town in Maine, religious undertones, nostalgic young love, drug addiction, rock and roll. And, of course, horror.

When asked about "Revival" in an interview earlier this year, King said, "It's too scary. I don't even want to think about that book anymore." Upon reaching the end, one will understand what caused him to say that. King takes his time getting to the scary stuff.

Despite a few frightening dream sequences, the first three hundred pages or so are somewhat tame, focusing mainly on Jamie's growth from a young boy into a middle-aged man. However, if nothing else, King is a master storyteller and through his rising action and hints dropped along the way, even the casual reader will realize he is building to something big.

The final two chapters contain some of the most terrifying prose ever to come out of King's overactive typewriter. In a world where special effects and CGI are used to create increasingly scarier movies, it is difficult to invoke fear or anxiety through the written word. In fact, King himself often fails to accomplish this. For instance, anyone who saw Kathy Bates' horrifyingly creepy portrayal of Annie Wilkes in "Misery" probably flinched whenever they saw a sledgehammer for months afterward, but the book is nowhere near as frightening. However, the same cannot be said about the wonderfully disturbing conclusion to "Revival." Even a seasoned horror movie veteran will find themselves pulling the covers up just a tad further, or maybe even flipping that nightlight back on.

If there is anything apart from horror that King is well known for, it is his characters. Over the past four decades, King has provided us a slew of incredibly rich, memorable characters: Jack Torrance from "The Shining," Pennywise the Clown from "It," Andy Dufresne from "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." With his realistic descriptions and dialogue and his astonishing attention to detail, King makes even secondary characters come alive. You feel like you know everyone in the story and you begin to care for them - and if there is anything dangerous in a Stephen King story, it's caring for a character. Like the God that Reverend Jacobs turns away from, King has a knack for ripping the people you care about away from you.

Although it drags a little bit in the middle, "Revival" is a must-read for any King-enthusiast, or any book-enthusiast for that matter. With his classic mixture of fear and emotion, King has crafted another novel that is not only terrifying, but also thought provoking and full of meaning. Jacobs' dangerous descent into obsession parallels humanity's unhealthy fixation on trivial matters and the novel's "shocking" conclusion makes us wonder if the questions we desperately seek the answers to are maybe the questions best left unanswered.