King’s 66th book (published 11/11/2014).
“That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.” (H.P. Lovecraft)
I’ve never been a Stephen King die-hard fan. There were a few of his novels that I elevated to Nirvana status (eg, “The Stand” being one of them).
When I think about King I always have two things in my mind:
- He once said, I don’t remember where, and I now I’ll paraphrase, that Stephanie Meyer couldn’t write anything worth a damn. For me that was the start to see Mr. King in a new light…;
- When King won the National Book Foundation, I remember Harold Bloom saying that (I’ll paraphrase again), Mr. King was destroying Literature (with a capital “L”).
I’m not particularly fond of Bloom, and I abhor Stephanie Meyer’s novels.
Anyone who bashes Meyer and thinks that Bloom is an hack (who hasn’t produced almost nothing worth reading), has my fully deep appreciation.
Having said this, I have (almost) all the conditions to appreciate this King Novel. I only need to have a good novel in my hands, which is the case here. I haven’t read everything King has written, but I’ve read a good chunk of his body of work (I haven’t made my acquaintance with Mr. Mercedes yet).
“Revival” comes very close to “The Stand” quality-wise. It’s not as big as “The Stand”. I think King has started pruning his books. In terms of character development (Jamie, Jacobs, not so much with Jenny), this is definitely one of his best novels.
King has never been the king of the things unsaid, but the approach here comes very close to that. There’s an undertone that makes the book very hard to read. Each time I put the book aside I had to breathe some fresh air. We can feel the Dark lurking…
What makes this one of the best King-wise?
All narrative is about what's left out as much as what's present. Let me try to explain. Let me show you one of my favourite paintings, “Summer Night” by Winslow Homer:
To me, this painting would lose its power if we could see the mother’s face.
The most powerful sort of line in a radio play is, "Oh my God! Look at that!" It's less powerful if the line is more explicit: "Oh my God! Look at the size of that turd on the sidewalk!". When my brain cannot make comparisons, it supplies its own comparison, which is, at least for me, much more powerful than anything King can come up with.
It's absolutely possible to omit information in books, and, in fact, it's vital if a novel wants to be a truly mighty experience.
A writer can play with the fact that what makes my day is not what’s in the novel, but sometimes it’s precisely what’s not. A writer that can play with the fact that it's impossible to look around to see the woman’s face is much more valuable to me. It puts me in SF mode, ie, it tantalizes and pushes the novel to an unseen dimension.
The synonym of a great writer, in my book, happens when he’s able to toy with me by omitting information. This can be done several ways: by pushing that information out of the sentences, or the way information is not conveyed in words (necessarily and also naturally absent). This allows me to be a participant in the story. This makes that particular prose interactive (eg, as in most of Christopher Priest’s novels).
I don't think anyone in his or her right mind and who knows a little about literature would put King in the same category as Shakespeare, Jean Austen, Christopher Priest, etc, not because these writers are great and King isn't, but simply because they are different writers with different audiences, as well as writing in completely different times. The comparison is pretty meaningless; Orange and Apples…In this novel as in “The Stand”, King was able to crawl into the head of each one of his characters (very few) as if he'd spent his entire life there. By doing that, he lays bare the emotional wreckage wrought by car crashes (the way King describes one of them made it one of the highlights of the novel), as well as lots of other traumas with the same unflinching exactitude he’s used to depict crazy dogs and human-devouring aliens.
As usual the writing here is some of the best of Stephen King's career. King’s use of gritty realism shows us that he’s in top form. His technical expertise as a writer is impossible to ignore. The way he was able to concoct accessible POV, his mastery of a kind of conversational grammar, produced an effect difficult to be mirrored by another writer:
“In spite of its vast power to kill and cure, in spite of the way it’s reshaped the lives of every person on the planet, and in spite of the fact that it is still not understood, scientific research in this field is viewed with good-natured contempt! Neutrons are sexy! Electricity is dull, the equivalent of a dusty storage room from which all the valuable items have been taken, leaving only worthless junk. But the room isn’t empty. There’s an unfound door at the back, leading to chambers few people have ever seen, ones filled with objects of unearthly beauty. And there’s no end to those chambers.”
How can one of King’s simplest novels be so powerful? Pruning at work?
There's a reason why we still read Shakespeare. King is no Shakespeare, but interactivity is the key word here, and in that aspect King is king.
King’s (best) novels. The stuff our nightmares are made off…
NB: SF = Speculative Fiction (as a follow—up to my last review, “The Revival” also belongs to this category)