Any Day Could Be The Day We Go Down, And We Never Know

(Revival)

Revival gets my vote for the most frightening King book of all time. It’s probably the most a King book has scared me since encountering Thinner around the age of 13. And unlike Thinner, Revival scared adult me and still has the power to scare me on re-read.

I’ve only read Revival once before this project. That’s going to be true of a lot of this last stretch of books just because they’re newer — I haven’t had time to pick them up and think, “I want to lose myself in this story again,” like I have with The Stand or Eyes of the Dragon or Under the Dome. But that’s really not why I haven’t gone back to Revival. I haven’t gone back to Revival because reading the end of Revival feels… bad. Most of it isn’t a terrifying book. But the last of it is enough. And it’s not even the deliciously spooked feeling you get from, say, going through a haunted house. No. Revival leaves me questioning everything. What’s the point in anything if the end is this awful null? No point in living. No point in dying. No point in anything. Not if the ultimate end of everything is this endless Lovecraftian horror show.

And I’m an atheist! I don’t believe anything happens after we die. I think that’s it. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, I don’t believe in deities, I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or Valhalla or anything at all. I haven’t for a very long time. Maybe forever — I may have called myself something other than atheist during my childhood, but I can’t remember ever really having a sense that there was anything bigger out there.

But there’s always that little shred of doubt, you know? We can’t know. No matter what we believe or don’t believe firmly, in our hearts of hearts, no matter what we feel, no matter what our brains will let us imagine, we can’t know for sure. So what if? What if it’s this? What if it’s null? What if it’s slavery to endless, inescapable horror forever?

It will take me weeks to get that thought out of my head. It sneaks up on you — you don’t necessarily feel it immediately. But you close the book, and the image doesn’t go away. It comes back to you when you’re trying to fall asleep. When you’re stuck in traffic. When you’re bored. When you’re sick of your job or your routine or some chore you’re trying to finish. And you end up thinking… what if I’m doing all this just for null? It’s awful.

The only story I can think of that hits me the way this one does is “N.” It has a similar feeling to it. A feeling that this could be, and if it is, it’s something you can’t get away from. It will get you eventually. What makes “N” tolerable is that it can be read as an allegory for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is actually treatable. Revival, on the other hand… well, death is not treatable. And if this is what comes after, it’s not treatable either.

By the way, I understand how bananas that sound if you aren’t in the immediate aftermath of reading Revival. There are a bunch of general theories on what the afterlife does or doesn’t look like, and if you start getting really specific, there are probably as many theories as there are people who have ever existed. And even with that, if there’s anything at all, it’s very unlikely that any one theory gets it exactly right. So how could a fictional book by an author, who probably doesn’t actually espouse such a theory personally, be the right one? Why would you even entertain the idea? I can only say that if you haven’t read it, read it. The aftermath of reading that book is what it is — just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

By the way, I’m not saying it’s a bad book. Quite the contrary. Any book that evokes that kind of reaction is a good book. It’s just that it feels bad.

Also, more prosaically, before the big finish, it’s slow in parts. I understand why we get so much of Jamie’s history and the history of his “fifth business,” as he calls him, the former Rev, Charles Jacobs. But there are times when you kind of want Jamie to get to the point. Then he does, and you wish with all your heart that he hadn’t. It’s rough.

It’s interesting, taken in conjunction with what else — if anything — you interpret King to have said about what happens after death. Should this be interpreted as just another level of the tower as a book that falls within the larger King-verse? Jake Chambers died, too, and he just woke up at the weigh station that Roland was headed to. The first time, anyway. And the last time we know of, he ended up in a place that was not quite the keystone world but close to it. It seemed nice enough… what happens when he dies in that world? Is null just where the people who die in the Revival where and when go? Does Revival take place in the keystone world? Does everyone in any world eventually go to null, just some of them get to go on an adventure or explore another world first? What would have happened if they’d revived one of those people half an hour post-death with the secret electricity?

The possibilities make your head hurt.

I would love to see this book made into a movie. I feel it’s a good candidate for one in many respects. It’s not closely tied with any other book — it mentions Castle Rock, but that’s about it. There are a lot of scenes that would probably be fun to watch, like the carnival lightening photo scene. But how they would do that ending any justice at all, I just don’t know. And I don’t really trust anyone currently making films to do it. I suspect if it could be done, it would be by keeping a lot of the worst of it off-screen and showing just enough to drive the audience’s imagination. And I’ve seen that done, but… not recently.

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