Saturday, November 22, 2014
Between Stephen King and John, I’ll Take John
What happens is, we get Stephen King, “author of fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers,” according to the author blurb on Revival. It is his latest novel, and—I promise, I swear on all that’s holy—my last.
Stephen King may be (I don’t know) the world’s best-selling author since St. Paul. That should scare you more than any of his creepy visions.
King knows how to make all the little hairs in your secret places stand up and shriek, but he doesn’t have a clue how the universe holds together.
The problem is, he pretends he does. His characters speak as though they do. There’s nothing wrong with visions of hell. Scripture is full of them. In today’s passage from Revelation 11, John writes of a “beast that comes up from the abyss.” King is all about describing that beast.
But for an author to unleash the beast with nothing to beat the beast back—and believe me, there’s nothing in Revival—violates the deepest desires of my human heart.
I want nothing more to do with him. I won’t spend another dime on his work.
I get the impression that, relying solely on his own nightmares, Stephen King thinks he’s a theologian or philosopher of some kind, not a minstrel, a ham, an en-ter-tain-er.
King’s philosophical bankruptcy is evident any time he tries to finish a novel. He can’t. He doesn’t know what to offer as a conclusion, a solution, a consolation—because he has none. He cobbles together some special effects and some ooga-booga, scares the bejeezus out of you, and then says, Good night children.
Revival pits a heroin addict, Jamie Morton, against a preacher-turned-quack-healer. The latter goes by a series of aliases but is often referred to as Pastor Danny. The “pastor’s” wife and son are killed in an accident. He loses faith and becomes a mad scientist harnessing “secret electricity” so that he can see through the doorway of death and rejoin his loved ones, or understand what happened to them.
If Pastor Danny were anything like a sympathetic character we might care about his quest, but from the outset he’s creepy. Jamie is a young boy when he meets the pastor, and there is something pedophilic about their relationship. Nothing sexual happens but I kept expecting something.
But then, so, Jamie must be a sympathetic character, right? Hardly. I don’t fault him for being an addict or a third-class rock musician. I fault him for being Stephen King. Every narrator in every King novel I’ve ever read speaks and things exactly the same way, with the same obsessions about popular culture from the 1960s until the present.
When the King narrator starts getting philosophical, he goes from banal to vapid. He gets a glimmer of something weird, some contact with another world or dark force or higher power or whatever, and he says something like what Jamie Morton says in Revival, “Something happened.”
For the rest of the book, Jamie repeats his extraordinary “insight.” Jamie says “Something happened” over and over again, sometimes in the same paragraph, like this one, in which he is suffering the aftereffects of one of Pastor Danny’s “treatments”:
“Something happened,” I said. I had a fork in one hand (God knows where that came from, too) and I was poking my swollen upper arm with it over and over again. Blood was beading up from at least a dozen pricks. “Something. Happened. Something happened. Oh Mother, something happened. Something, something.”
Did you notice the poetic variety of Something happened, followed by Something. Happened, and ending with Something, something. Can I hear you say, Wow?
Thanks to Kindle’s search feature, I can report that Jamie Morton says or thinks the phrase Something happened thirty-five (35) times, not counting the times he repeats it to himself in a single paragraph like this one.
That’s all King has to say about the beast unleashed by Pastor Danny’s evil experimentation. King opens the door to hell (his own imagination), watches like a toll-taker as the monsters rush out, then takes the tolls to the bank, leaving the door open.
Revival reverses the usual fault of most King books, IMHO. Books like It and The Stand (which I confess to having enjoyed) begin with narrative bangs and end—because King has no clue what to do with his demons—with philosophical whimpers.
Revival starts—and continues for nearly 350 pages—with a whimper. It wanders around desultory and without interest (unless you find King’s narrative voice interesting) until, in the final 50-60 pages, you are brought to the big blow-off on the mountain top, complete with lightning storm and a doorway into the dark world where “Mother” awaits.
BTW, we’re not talking about the Blessed Mother here. We’re talking about something black and spider-like and—you really don’t want to know.
And Steve—Your point is? You’ve looked into the mystery and you’ve seen what?
You’ve seen dollar signs, is what you’ve seen, and so the infernal machine that is Stephen King’s oeuvre driven by Stephen King’s nightmares keeps spinning and grinding. And we—the ones paying for all that spinning and grinding—get nothing whatever in the way of food for the soul.
I was annoyed by Revival. More than anything, though, I was bored. I just wanted it over. Please.
You want beasts? Fine. Give me John. Give me Revelation. Just don’t give me one more damn Stephen King novel.