Review – Revival

Revival

Revival by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What a long, strange trip it has been. I have been reading Stephen King for probably 30 years. When I was in Jr. High I used to sneak away from my mom at Wal-Mart to buy paperbacks, and hide them in my pockets until I could get to the privacy of my room. My mother was not a fan, you could say.

I loved those books. I loved the goriness, the crafty little turns of phrase, and the depiction of rurality that I recognized (being from rural Kansas, I guess there’s not that much difference between little prairie towns and little New England towns). Over the years, I came to see what King himself called his “salami-making.” These were fine, creepy yarns, sometimes even gutwrenchingly sad (Oh, Henry…). But they weren’t “Litrachure.” King had no pretensions of deep exploration of the human condition, he wrote scary stories to read in the dark.

But now, as I approach middle age, I’m starting to question that truism. Because there are stories like Hearts in Atlantis, or The Body, or this one, Revival, that seem to transcend the rough-ground spiciness of, say, Christine. It might just be the decades of life that have come to inform the writer’s thinking. Or it might be the decades of life that have come to inform this reader. But somehow, I think King is tapping into a deeper vein these days.

Revival is at the same time a memoir of a life not wholly unlike Kings, a love letter to the origins of a certain brand of horror, and a look at what makes the first so good, and the last so bad.

For roughly the first half of the book, we read the story of Jamie’s life as something not entirely unusual. There are the purely human pains of tragedy and disillusionment. There are also the more mundane growing pains of rough big brothers, feeling your way through first love, and addiction. There is little that could be called supernatural or ominous, apart from what Jamie himself alludes to in hindsight.

This is a slow burn. It builds a living character, a life of complexity and reality that other writers would rush through. But King does not rush here. He takes his time, because this weaving is what makes the latter half punch so hard.

In the latter half, the ominous shadow of Charles Daniel Jacobs (Charlie Daniels and the Devil in Georgia, huh?) grows heavy, and the threads of the weave begin to darken with the taint of Lovecraft, Derleth, and Machen (three names mentioned right at the top of the book…). For this book is as pure an expression of cosmic horror as any you’ll find. Jacobs, the reverend of Jamie’s youth, is desperate to tap into the powers that run the world behind the world, no matter the cost…

And the cost is great. Because this ending gathers up those threads of youth woven so slowly in the beginning of the book and brings them back to the end to come full circle. The joys of youth become the pain of age, now tainted with darkness from beyond the veil.

It’s masterful.

And yet, there is still some salami here. Because King does what other cosmic horrors often avoided: he made the implicit explicit. He describes in detail what lays behind the veil, and in so doing removes much of its more lingering power. There is still dread here, but I can’t help but think its was blunted by that choice.

I still think that this is one of the best expressions of King’s strength, his characters, and leverages that strength to make a genuinely unsettling horror story. Revival is maybe the best of King, and a transcendence of the limits he placed on himself so long ago.



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Review – 邪神決闘伝

邪神決闘伝

邪神決闘伝 by Hideyuki Kikuchi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This self-described Cthulhu Western is a very traditional western hammered into a very traditional Cthulhu mythos mold to make something uniquely fun. The writer wears his tastes on his sleeve, writing a western based deeply in the Hollywood 1950s movie tradition: famous gunslingers, nefarious train companies running honest farmers off their land, and deadly natives. Add to that Deep Ones, Cthulhu magic, and seemingly deathless villains, and you get quite an adventure.

This does mean, of course, that many of the more nuanced views that have started to shape the American view of the west, particularly recognition of the terrible treatment of Native Americans and Black people, are absent. The Native Americans in this story are enemies, if ones on perhaps more equal terms with the protagonists than was common in the old western tradition, and the only black characters are nameless servants.

One rather interesting element is the addition of the Japanese character Shinobi, and the recurring equation of his Japanese-ness with the Native Americans by malevolent white characters–it adds a wrinkle to the treatment of race in this one that is worth thinking about.

Overall, there is little original ground tread here, but the author makes no bones about it: This is a product of his love of old western movies, and his interest in Lovecraft’s malevolent world building. If you go into it looking for that, you won’t be disappointed.



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Review – The Shapes of Midnight

The Shapes of Midnight

The Shapes of Midnight by Joseph Payne Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Shapes of Midnight by Joseph Payne Brennan

I went into this book blind. I did not know who the author was, or when the book was written, only that the cover looked interesting and it was in one of my favorite genres (the horror anthology). I am very glad that I did, because it was like some kind of mirror into my own reading history.

In the afterword, there is a quote from Stephen King that calls Brennan “one of the most effective writers in the horror genre” and I have to agree. Not because of the actual chills in the stories (honestly, I didn’t find that many) but because of the obvious influence he had on the genre, particularly Stephen King himself.

Reading the book, unaware of the history behind it, I felt myself thinking “This would have been perfect for Weird Tales.” more than once. I was, of course, 100% right. Brennan wrote hundreds of stories for that classic magazine.
I also found myself thinking, “This guy loved him some Stephen King.” It turns out I had it backwards!

These stories are nothing all that unique to the experienced reader of horror, and the “twists” in them are not twists at all, today. But this is because Brennan literally created many of them.

Of the stories in this collection, I found I liked The Pavillion best. A story of murder, guilt, and revenge(?) from beyond the grave, I found myself imagining it shot for shot in some early 80s horror anthology movie (Creepshow, of course).

Disappearance is another proto-King story. Indeed, I can see direct influences of several King stories here–the taciturn farmer with a secret, the missing family member, the grisly discovery. They all seem buried deep in our horror conscience now, thanks to stories like this.

As horror, honestly, there probably isn’t much here for the modern fan, but as a glimpse into the roots of the genre this is a very interesting (and still quite fun!) read.

I’d like to thank the publisher for the review copy!



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Review – Home from the Sea

Home From The Sea

Home From The Sea by William Meikle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Home from the Sea
by William Meikle

This is a collection of stories in a “Lovecraftian” vein, and all are connected to the sea/water in some way.

Overall, the collection is quite fun. It bounces between exciting novelty, and a somewhat telling repetition of ideas and even sentences. The whole seems to create an almost original branch of the mythos that is all Meikle’s, particularly the influence of music and rhythm on the mind and the “others.”

Some of my particular favorites among these stories are perhaps “Inquisitor,” pitting a shoggoth against a member of the Spanish Inquisition (bet you weren’t expecting that!); and the title story, in which whalers are faced with something horrific from the depths. They both take some basic familiar ideas and use them in novel ways to create something very interesting.

The book does have some minor little editing issues (one story had a bunch of commas replaced by the 3/4 symbol. What?) but is generally very well done and quite readable.

Definitely worth a read for horror and Lovecraft fans.



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Review – A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer

This collection is a reverse chronological exploration of the nefarious Calipash family, a bloodline cursed to depravity, transformation, and dissolution. It is also a masterful exercise in parody, as it lampoons Gothic horror, novels of manners, Lovecraft, and the history of Roman Britain.

The title story, a novella of twists and turns set in a private school in faux-English civil war Oxford, and it genderbends, challenges reader assumption, and sexes things up a lot.

I drive it hard to describe exactly what I looked about this book, but I looked it a lot. The writing is pitch-perfect, adopting the voice and style of each period cleverly, and it twists the tries of the styles in just the right way to keep things interesting.

A real pleasure!



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