Book Review: Revival Season by Monica West
Revival Season by Monica West
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Revival Season is not the kind of story I can read completely objectively. My faith is a huge part of my identity. I’m a Christian, and I’ve attended Baptist churches my entire life. When something is so integral to who you are, it’s difficult to remove yourself from a story that centers so profoundly around that trait or belief. And that was one of my biggest problems with this book. There were so many religious red flags that I wanted to take the whole fictional family to counseling. This was a twisted, maimed version of my faith staring back at me from the page, a funhouse reflection of what I believe. I just wanted to look away. I didn’t. I finished the book. But it was a struggle for me.
A particular subset of Christian leaders I’ve always had a ton of issues with is the faith healers. While I fully believe that God is still performing miracles every day, including those so profound that there’s no other explanation, I’ve seen too many exposés on said faith healers lying to congregants and staging their healings in order to gain larger followings or more financial contributions. I don’t trust them as a group, though I’ve never met a self-professed faith healer in person. So it was interesting to see the life of a faith healer from the inside. The story is set in 2017, but it feels more historical than that. I kept thinking about the 70s as I read for some reason. There was something about the lifestyle this man was forcing upon his family that just screamed “abusive situation waiting to happen” to me, while also shooting me back into the past.
I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live with knowing the truth about something while everyone you love believes a lie, and not being able to tell them the truth because you know they would never believe you. Well, I can, but I’m thankful to not be in that situation. But that’s where Miriam, our perspective character, finds herself. She’s the eldest child in this family, and she sees something one night during revival season that leads her to question everything she’s ever known about God and faith and her father. The rest of the story is her wrestling with that knowledge and those questions.
If you’re a Christian, it’s so desperately important to never tie your faith to another person, whether that person is a family member or a preacher or someone famous who professes to follow Christ. The only beings who should be involved in your personal belief are you and God. The same can be said for any religion or belief system. The people in your life will fail you. They’ll make mistakes because they’re human. And if your faith is somehow tied to them, it will break when they do.
I don’t generally do trigger warnings, but there’s a fairly graphic scene depicting self-harm in this book of which I think some more sensitive readers need to be made aware. There’s also a good bit of child and spousal abuse, though most of it happens off-screen, at least in the front half of the story. Between those issues and the depiction of religion, this book was hard for me to read, and I don’t consider myself a particularly sensitive reader in most cases. The unhappiness in this family was palpable from the beginning of the novel and only worsened from there. Something about it felt relentlessly bleak to me.
For a story so supposedly centered on God, there was actually very little of Him in these pages. While the characters proclaimed faith in God, it felt more like their faith was in either themselves or another person. If any of them prayed for a sign, they would interpret whatever happened as an affirmation. The entire approach to faith and having a relationship with God as portrayed in this book rubbed me the wrong way and made me deeply uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s because I’ve seen this type of religious fervor firsthand in my life, and have seen the damage it can wreak. I think it’s always hard to look at the twisting of your own faith. However, I also think this was a very deliberate, purposeful choice by the author. Because God was indeed present in the pages, and his scarcity made his presence all the more powerful to our perspective character when she did feel Him. Or was it simply the power of her own belief that she felt? That question is one of the things that made the story interesting.
I both hated and respected the ambiguous, open-ended ending. Where the story went after that final sentence is anyone’s guess, which will surely keep it at the front of readerly minds far after they finish the book. But I couldn’t decide if it was a brave decision or a weak one. But that’s often how I feel when reading such endings, and is one of the main reasons I have such a love/hate relationship with literary fiction.
I’m glad to have read Revival Season. And I’m even more glad that I’ve finally finished reading it. It made me think deeply, and my husband and mom both heard way more about it than I’m sure they wanted to. And it made me feel, though the emotions it evoked the strongest were anger and sadness. This is a book that, while I appreciated it, I didn’t enjoy it, and I won’t be reading it again. That being said, the writing was excellent, and I would definitely be interested in reading more of West’s work.
You can purchase the book from: Blackwells | Bookshop.org (Support Independent Bookstores) | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | Libro.fm (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping)