West’s debut, Revival Season (Simon & Schuster, June.) examines the spiritual awakening of Miriam Horton, a Baptist healer’s daughter, during the family’s annual revival tour.
What was the genesis for Revival Season?
This book started with an image of an old-ish van going down the road. I then had to write my way through who’s in this van. Someone who has the most power and someone who has the least. The image came before the idea. The idea of religion has always fascinated me in the ways it can be freeing and the ways it can be confining.
What did you want to explore about gender and power?
I always wanted it to be about the powerful patriarch and this less powerful daughter who is unseen and unnoticed. Miriam and Ma are so intimately connected to the family structure, and yet none of the stuff they do is seen as powerful. They are at the whim and the mercy of Samuel’s rage. But the book is also about faith and doubt. Even within the book itself, the healing scenes are not clear-cut in the sense that I leave the door open: Did he ever really heal people? That is less important to me than the idea of what people actually believe.
How did the Rev. Samuel Horton character develop?
Pretty late in the process, I made Samuel a boxer. It was more the idea of the violence being an escape valve—what it would mean for someone to “transform their life” and still have residue of who they were. The idea for Samuel was that he’s someone who uses his hands and is powerful in that way and then switches to a career where he uses his hands differently. Boxing involves skill, inflicting punches and power; now he uses those same hands to heal. What would it mean for someone to make such a shift? He becomes a prodigy and never really shakes that old life off. He can ignore it for a little bit until he has a real crisis on the revival tour, and all those things he grew up learning from training come back. It feels like second nature, like a reflex.
The conclusion leaves some open-ended questions: Did Samuel kill someone? Did Miriam ever heal her friend? What do you want the reader to come away with?
I don’t want this story to be about only one way of viewing this family. I want to leave room for however many ways people view the characters. The ending had to be open in the same way. Whatever you believe about Miriam, I want the ending to be what you think she would do.