Stephen King has written over 50 novels, of which maybe I’ve read half, he is a consummate storyteller. This story builds slowly, starting as a contemporary drama type book that creates complex characters, looks at themes of religion and family, and builds up an interesting three-dimensional portrait of a small community. But as the novel moves along, it becomes darker and creepier, you know you can trust King to ratchet up the tension.
The story is set over a long time period stretching from the sixties to the 2010s. Our protagonist, Jamie begins the tale as a young boy meeting a new young pastor in his district the Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jacobs is obsessed with electrical experimentation and shows Jamie a model of Jesus seemingly magically walking on the water.
“Kids … Electricity is one of God’s doorways to the infinite.”
After a horrifying motor accident, Jacobs delivers a particularly terrible sermon and leaves town. Many years later Jamie is a rhythm guitarist in his mid thirties addicted to heroin, he runs into Jacobs at a county fair with a sideshow making “Portraits in Lightning”. Jacobs cures Jamie of his addiction using what he terms his “secret electricity”. But Jamie senses that “something happened“. Jamie is cynical and researches into what happened to those Pastor Jacobs cured of various conditions using his “secret electricity”. He finds some unsettling after effects and worries about what might be Pastor Jacobs ultimate goal.
King is also looking at the fear of aging, he himself is long past the double nickel of dread.
“The three great ages of the Great American Male -youth, middle age and you look fuckin’ terrific.”
“I think for most people, life’s deceptive deliriums begin to fall away after fifty. The days speed up, the aches multiply and your gait slows down…”
The book’s electrical undercurrent reminds me of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Stephen King’s earlier novel “The Tommyknockers”. Strangely, I picture in my mind the character of Rev Jacobs as the Doctor Who persona played by Matt Smith.
My rating 4 out of 5