29 Years
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Book Nook - 02-02-2015

Monday, February 02, 2015
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

Electrifying Horror
The prolific Stephen King churns out books at an alarming rate, and every book has an intriguing idea at its core and a style of writing that keeps the reader hooked. Even those who are not fans of the master of horror, suspense and fantasy, can’t but marvel at how he pulls off a bestseller each time, without compromising on the quality that one has come to expect from him.

 His latest, Revival—his 58th— is a sprawling novel spanning half a century, with a strange pastor-scientist character, inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (later in the book, there are characters called Mary and Victor, as homage). King also dedicates it to HP Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, whose The Great God Pan “has haunted me all my life.” In an interview, King called it a “nasty, dark piece of work...It’s too scary. I don’t even want to think about that book any more.”  The book does have a disturbing effect on the reader.

The narrator is Jamie Morton, who first encounters Pastor Charles Jacobs when he is six years old, playing in his backyard.  A shadow falls over the mud fort he has made, and never leaves him.  The new minister is charming and is soon popular with the whole town. His wife and infant son also become a part of the community. Jacobs is a man of God, but his passion is electricity and he is always tinkering with wires and batteries, creating his own gizmos. He wins over the Morton family by curing one of the kids Conrad, of his muteness, using a handmade electric tool.

Then, Jacobs’s family is brutally killed in an accident and he loses his faith.  After preaching a sermon in which he says that religion is “built on the blood, bones, and screams of those who have the effrontery not to bow to their idea of God,” he quietly leaves town.

Meanwhile, Jamie becomes a musician and is spiralling out of control with a drug problem when he encounters Jacobs again. Jacobs is now a fairground huckster, wowing the hicks with his electrical tricks.  But he picks up Jamie, takes him home, looks after him and using electricity again, cures him of his addiction. The ‘cure’ has some scary side-effects, but Jamie is still grateful for being pulled out of the gutter and placed back on the road to recovery. Jacobs also arranges for a job for Jamie at a recording studio with a maverick music producer Hugh (also one of his ‘cures’), and he is at peace. But every time Jacobs makes a re-entry, he is in a new avatar, as a miracle healer or conman, and, as Jamie can see, a man so obsessed with electricity that he is losing his grip on reality. Even as he does cure some people, Jacobs also leaves a trail of tragedy behind him.

But Jacobs does not think he is doing anything wrong. He has a clear agenda and Jamie is a part of his grand plan, for which he uses threats and emotional blackmail to summon him whenever he needs a hand.

King masterfully draws the reader in, with placid passages when Jamie is almost happy, to the darkness that engulfs him every time he meets Jacobs. Even though he knows nothing good can come of it, and he promises to break ties with Jacobs, Jamie cannot stay away from the destructive power of the man.

Jamie’s and Jacobs’s lives get increasingly intertwined, till the truly terrifying climax, which has a hint of Hindu mythology.  It’s a nightmare-inducing but fascinating read.
 
Revival
by Stephen King
Published by Scribner
Pages: 405

Excerpt from Revival
I slept the remainder of the afternoon. When I woke up, I felt like an earlier version of Jamie Morton, clearheaded and full of pep. I swung my legs over the side of his bed and watched him put on his show clothes. “Tell me something,” I said.

“If it’s about our little adventure in West Tulsa, I’d rather not discuss it. Why don’t we just wait and see if you remain as you are now, or if you relapse into craving . . . damn this tie, I can never get it right and Briscoe is utterly useless.”

Briscoe was his assistant, the fellow who mugged and distracted the audience when it needed distracting.

“Hold still,” I said. “You’re making a mess of that. Let me.”

I stood behind him, reached over his shoulders, and tied the tie. With the shakes gone from my hands, it was easy. Like my walk once the brain shot had worn off, they were Steady Eddie.

“Where did you learn to do that?”

“After my accident, when I could stand up and play for a couple of hours without falling down, I worked with a group called the Undertakers.” It hadn’t been much of a group. Any band where I was the best player wasn’t. “We wore frock coats, stovepipe hats, and string ties. The drummer and the bass player got into a fight over a girl and the group broke up, but I came out of it with a new skill.”

“Well . . . thank you. What did you want to ask me?”

“About the Portraits in Lightning gig. You only take pictures of women. It seems to me that you’re losing fifty percent of your business that way.”

He grinned his boyish grin, the one he’d worn when he was lead- ing the games in the parsonage basement. “When I invented the portrait camera—which is actually a combined generator and pro- jector, as I’m sure you know—I did attempt to do both men and women. This was at a little seaside amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. Out of business now, but it was a lovely place, Jamie. I enjoyed it greatly. During my time on the midway — which was called Joyland Avenue—there was a Rogues’ Gallery next to Mysterio’s Mirror Mansion. It featured life-size cardboard figures with cutouts where the faces belonged. There was a pirate, a gangster with an automatic, a tough Jane with a tommygun, the Joker and Catwoman from the Batman comics. People would put their faces in and the park’s traveling photographers — Hollywood Girls, they were called—would snap their pictures.”

“That gave you the idea?”

“Yes. At the time I was styling myself Mr. Electrico — an homage to Ray Bradbury, but I doubt if any of the rubes knew it—and although I had invented a crude version of my current projector, it had never crossed my mind to feature it in the show. Mostly I used the Tesla coil and a spark generator called Jacob’s Ladder. I demon- strated a small Jacob’s Ladder to you kids when I was your minister, Jamie. I used chemicals to make the rising sparks change color. Do you remember?”

I did.

“The Rogues’ Gallery made me aware of the possibilities inherent in my projector, and I created Portraits in Lightning. Just another gaff, you’d say . . . but it also helped me to advance my studies, and still does. During my stint at Joyland, I used a backdrop featuring a man in expensive black tie as well as the beautiful girl in the ball gown. Some men took me up on it, but surprisingly few. I believe their shitkicker friends laughed at them when they saw them dressed to the nines like that. Women never laugh, because women love dressing to the nines. To the tens, if possible. And when they see the demonstration, they line up.”

“How long have you been gigging?”

He calculated, one eye squinted shut. Then he opened them both wide in an expression of surprise. “It’s almost fifteen years now.”

I shook my head, smiling. “You went from preaching to huckstering.”

As soon it was out of my mouth I realized it was a mean thing to say, but the idea of my old minister turning tips still boggled my mind. He wasn’t offended, though. He just gave his perfectly knot- ted tie a final admiring look in the mirror, and tipped me a wink.

“No difference,” he said. “They’re both just a matter of convincing the rubes. Now please excuse me while I go and sell some lightning.”

He left the heroin on the little table in the middle of the Bounder. I glanced at it from time to time, even picked it up once, but I had no urge to use any. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t understand why I’d trashed so much of my life over it in the first place. All that crazy need seemed like a dream to me. I wondered if everyone felt that way when their compulsions passed. I didn’t know.

I still don’t.

Thirty-three and a Half Shenanigans
For a change of mood, a light chick-lit mystery, Thirty-three and a Half Shenanigans by Denise Grover Swank.  It’s for the vocabulary-challenged young reader, who has made the Rose Gardner series bestsellers.

 It is set in a small Arkansas town, where people use phrases like “Oh my stars and garters” or “Crappy doodles”, are always placing their hands on their hips and giving each other ‘ornery’ looks (the writer could do with a thesaurus). Here, Rose runs a landscaping business with the troubleshooting Bruce Wayne and her malevolent sister Violet, but also gets involved in many “shenanigans.”

 For one, she is in the midst of a love triangle between the deputy sheriff Joe and the assistant district attorney, Mason. Then, her best friend Neely Kate wants help to find her missing cousin, Dolly Parton (they have names like that!)  Rose gets sudden visions of the future, and this, for some reason makes her invaluable to the town’s underworld king Skeeter Malcolm.

In the search for Dolly, Rose and Neely Kate audition at a strip joint, Rose attends a gangsters meeting in disguise, Mason gets shot at, and Joe’s clingy ex girlfriend gets pregnant. Rose has plenty to be “ornery” about.

It’s a quick read, that can be tossed aside and forgotten. Rose is not half as efficient or likeable as so many other female solvers of mysteries, but Swank’s readers probably like a feisty young woman, who is pretty, has a drool-worthy figure and has men eating out of her hands.  And, she doesn’t swoon at the first sign of trouble...or a dead body with a hole in his head.
 
Thirty-three and a Half Shenanigans
by Denise Grover Swank
Self-Published
Pages: 358

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