A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.
In a small New England town, over half a century ago, 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, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs -- including Jamie's mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.
Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family's horrific loss. In his mid-thirties -- addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate -- Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.
This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It's a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons, even death may die” -The Nameless City, by HP Lovecraft. This chilling phrase is repeated more than once during this tale. As any good Metallica fan would know, it’s also a line from the excellent “The Thing that Should Not Be.”
Stephen King has an unerring talent for making you believe what he says. His stories are so well crafted that you find yourself looking around corners, looking for the thin spots in reality, looking for the world just beneath the thin veneer of the one we live in. You look at graffiti and search it for meanings. You look down a darkened alleyway and have no doubt in your mind that were you to walk to the end of the path you would not wind up somewhere as simple as the end of the street. Caves creep you out. The sink drain creeps you out. That odd orangey light that sometimes happens when it rains during sunset leaves you feeling like your skin is about to crawl off of your back. All of these things and more are the reason we keep coming back to the Master of Horror, begging him to take the simplest of things and make us fear, make us jump, make us feel.
When you reach the end of this particular tale, you will feel a creeping sense of dread, and you will wonder just how true is it that our reality is just colorful tissue paper, easily torn by what lies beyond.
This book tells the story of a preacher who once believed in what he taught. When his family is killed in a senseless accident the preacher’s faith is shattered. What he once held in highest regard he now holds in contempt, both his former God and the sheep that follow him. He holds only to one force now, the mysterious “potestas magnum universum," the secret electricity the powers the universe. Charles dives deep into the dark side of his studies, seeking to harness this electricity. He is desperate to find where his family is, to be certain of their fates. Charles seeks to use his knowledge to open a door to the other side. As he roams around the country, he uses the secret electricity to conduct his own experiments on willing subjects, in the guise of a faith healer. Some of his “patients” are cured completely, with no problems afterward, but there are some - some who have deadly after effects of his treatments.
The story is narrated through the eyes of Jamie Morton, who at the age of six, had the dubious honor of being the first person Charles connected with when arriving in his new ministry. Throughout the years Charles and Jamie bounce off of each other over and over. Charles uses one of his gadgets to cure Jamie’s brother of trauma induced mutism; and years later uses a much more advanced apparatus to cure Jamie himself of a heroin addiction. But the cure for Jamie came with a price, which lead him to search out Charles’ other cures. What he finds is both surprising and terrifying, and leads Jamie to wonder, should Charles be stopped? Could he be made to stop? Does he even know what his cures are doing to people?
We follow Jamie and Charles all through their lives, and when they meet for the final time Charles is very elderly indeed. But he is no less driven, and holds Jamie to the debt of the cure that saved his life. If that wasn’t enough to sway Jamie, Charles also holds the cards of someone Jamie cares for, who desperately needs Charles’ cure. But what Charles and Jamie uncover working together leaves Jamie hovering on the brink of madness. The phrase “what has been seen, cannot be unseen” comes to mind. As any longtime reader of King can tell you, opening doors you have no business messing with never has good results.
It’s no coincidence that not long after I finished this book, I went down to our local Lowe’s and got three big bags of ant killer. I can’t stand the little bastards now. Thanks, Uncle Steve.
Till next time.