In a small New England town, in the early 60s, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister, Charles Jacobs. Soon they forge a deep bond, based on their fascination with simple experiments in electricity.
Decades later, Jamie is living a nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll. Now an addict, he sees Jacobs again – a showman on stage, creating dazzling ‘portraits in lightning’ – and their meeting has profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.
Stephen King has a knack of managing to take things I have never heard of, little details of life from an America I am not familiar with and weave such into a story that has me appreciating and – bewilderingly – feeling nostalgic for them.
This book has the central motif of music in that respect, the artists frequently referenced I know almost nothing about, although I have at least heard of some of them. I can normally invest in these specifics regardless but this one had me feeling that I was missing out on something, as if prior knowledge to this soundtrack would have added much more to the story, which is a feeling I hate as I almost feel compelled to stop and consume each bit of music as it is mentioned. That said King does make the reader want to take an interest because of his obvious passion for that era of music and that is no bad thing, to appreciate human artistry whatever form it takes.
The plot follows a friendship forged and lost, a chance meeting years later and a clashing of beliefs and electricity, it’s pretty existential in its own way and it will play on the fears of a lot of people when all is said in done. This makes it more memorable than it would have been were the narrative not backed up with something as speculative and fascinating as it is, that said the imagery of the prose is some of the most memorable I have read in a good while and more than makes up for the flaws in the rest of the story.
Plenty of issues are woven into the story as you would expect, religion and science, loss, grief, damaged people and the need for answers to those questions out of our reach. As for the horror, it’s more a feeling of dread that simmers just under the surface in the manner of a classic monster horror of years past and King does give some heavy nods to certain authors of more traditional horror origins. I would advise skipping the dedication page listing authors who have influenced him, which may give some themes away.
King’s usual writing style which I enjoy with its layered and excellent building of character is here in usual form, going into the customary minute details that allow you to really get to know a character, their history and subsequent motivations. His creations always have those all to human weaknesses that one can relate to and understand and those important moments in a character’s life that defines them and makes them not only believable but worth investing in and truly caring about.
There are some off-hand references to his other books which will keep long-term fans happy but there is also a distinct lack of peril and suspense, despite a few sinister bits. A slow build up to the big reveal at the end is the order of the day, there are long periods of life story and wondering about things before the big and truly macabre finale. Macabre is probably not doing the ending justice which is something I don’t often say about anything, except for films such as the excellent Kill List but that’s another story. The only gripe I have with the last part of the story is that it did become obvious a little too early what was going on and lacked something in pacing as well, feeling all too rushed.
My initial impressions upon finishing were that It’s a decent book but for King not one of his best, for another writer I would have considered it a good effort but with this author’s back catalogue of books, it is mediocre. A lot of that comes down to the brisk feeling of the ending and it was also a little flat when it came to the distinct lacking set pieces, which King usually endows with an atmosphere that is genuinely fraught with menace and danger, that stays with you after the book has finished. Bleak would be an accurate assessment of this one, worth a read if you are after a short diversion but not classic King by any stretch.