Friday, December 23, 2016

Something Happened: "Revival" Revisited, Part 2

Last post, I talked a bit about magic, and passed along an idea I got from Alan Moore: that writing ("spelling") IS magic, or, at least, can be.  It's an idea that probably made a few of you roll your eyes.  So might this idea (also from Moore): the greatest and most powerful magicians of the modern age are almost certainly advertisers.
Some people will tell you that perception is reality.  I don't agree; I think reality is reality, and perception is perception, and any attempt to convince you they are one and the same is a misuse of terminology.  It's a widely-known saying, though, and the mere fact that it's caught on to the extent it has is an indication that it's a powerful idea.  It might not be reality, but reality is partially driven by reaction, and reactions are in large part driven by perceptions ... so there is certainly a relationship between perception and reality.
As such, a marketing campaign can -- and frequently does -- work to actively shape/reshape reality.  So while the notion of this process being equivalent to magic might seem absurd in some ways, I think it has merit.  We think of magic as being Doctor Strange folding a building in half without any of the occupants knowing it; and, yeah, sure, that counts.  Is that actually more impressive than the course of American history being radically changed during an election campaign?  I'll let you know when I've seen the former; having seen the latter, I know its power (and fear I am going to be given many more examples).
One way to think about all of this is to simply decide that marketing is mere dishonesty, a willful form of obfuscation and inveigling designed to trick people into believing things they didn't believe before.  I think there's more to it than that.  Successful marketing works mostly due to the fact that the magician marketer is able to tap into ideas already present in the minds of the audience.  How do you effectively sell cheeseburgers?  You don't do it by walking into a room of vegetarians; you do it by walking into a room of meat-eaters and reminding them that they love cheeseburgers.  From there, it's an easy trick to convince people that you've invented some never-before-dreamed-of variant of a piece of ground beef that has been cooked, covered with a slice of cheese, and put between two pieces of bread.  
The marketing of Revival put forth the notion that it was a return to pure horror for Stephen King.  Thus begins an interview with King conducted by Goodreads in November of 2014:
Just when you think Stephen King's well of pitch-black, sleep-with-the-lights-on horror must surely be running dry, he finds new and possibly even darker ways to terrify us.  His latest novel, Revival, sees the author of more than 50 global bestsellers -- including The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It -- return to the "balls to the wall" (King's words) supernatural horror with which he made his name.  In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves."  His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does."
Five months earlier, well in advance of the novel's publication, King had said this about the novel, with which (he intimated) he had scared even himself: "It's too scary.  I don't even want to think about that book anymore.  It's a nasty, dark piece of work.  That's all I can tell you."  Several pre-release reviews by King-community luminaries such as Bev Vincent and Hans-Åke Lilja indicated that the book's final thirty-to-fifty pages were where things got really dark.  I seem to recall another such review that said that that final stretch was the scariest thing King had ever written; but I've been unable to remember who wrote that review, so maybe that's an invention of my memory.
I leave it to you to decide which aspects of all that (if any) count as "marketing" and which do not; all I know for sure is that these were ideas I encountered prior to the novel's release.  Having encountered them, I could only read Revival with those ideas laid like a filter across it.  Any ideas I had about the novel were required first to pass through that filter, for better or for worse.
It's not folding a building.  But it's not nothing, and if it's not nothing, then it's something.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Fragile, Beauty: "Revival" Revisited, Part 1

Recently, I've been feeling the urge to get back in the swing of things when it comes to King-reading.  I've been slacking (for reasons discussed here) in that regard for the better part of 2016; actually, going back well into 2015.  This drought has gotten so bad that I've still not read his newest novel, End of Watch, which came out nearly six months ago.  Never have I waited this long to read a new King novel!  The itch to do so is finally getting pretty insistent, though, and I'm determined to scratch it before much longer...
...but a voice in the back of my head has been telling me that before I did that, I needed to revisit Revival.  I never felt like I'd given that novel a fair shake when it came out in 2014, and I've been promising myself ever since that I would return to it sooner rather than later.  I guess the boat sailed long ago in that regard, but still, there was that mental voice; and it was fairly insistent.  If this blogging that I do is art of any kind -- and I believe that it is (albeit very self-centered art that is important only to myself) -- then I suppose that was the voice of my muse.
I try to listen to her when she calls, so a few weeks ago, I sat down in my old, smelly blue armchair, grabbed my for-note-taking copy of Revival off the shelf, and got to work.
I'll go ahead and render my verdict now: I did indeed fall in love with this novel on the second read.  And yet, I had all the same complaints that I had the first time around.  The difference?  Expectations.  We'll talk more about that later; for now, let's say that, with a reread under my belt, I find that I love Revival for the things it does well.  It does them so well that my caveats became relatively unimportant.
Looking over my notes, I think the way to proceed is to tackle my reappraisal in three separate posts: the first covering the aspects of the novel that I love; the second covering the aspects which still don't entirely work for me; and the third covering everything I want to discuss which doesn't fit neatly into the first two.  All of these are going to contain spoilers, not merely for this novel but potentially for other King novels as well; they will be written assuming a familiarity with King's work in the broad sense.
Still not a fan of this cover.

If you've got an urge to read what I thought about the book upon its initial release, then here's a link.  I noted there that I loved the novel for roughly the first 370 pages or so, and I would say that that mostly held true this time, too.