Saturday, January 17, 2009


It's impossible to call any book by Stephen King forgotten but by now some of the novels he wrote early on are less discussed than they once were.

Christine, as I'm sure most of you know from book and movie, concerns a 1958 Plymouth Fury with psychopathic soul. In a variety of ways it kills people. Now for those of you who don't like horror I suppose the premise is off-putting. A killer car? I spent a good part of my misspent youth in auto repair garages, going to drag races and dreaming of a chopped and channeled `53 Olds convertible I once saw. White leather interior. I genuflected when it passed by. Because I didn't know jack about cars I had to content myself watching the people who turned their machines into personalities as real--hell, more real--than some of the kids hanging around them. Believe me for kids crazy about cars Christine is a very clever metaphor.

To me this book is one of King's richest in terms of its humanity. As a novel about high school outsiders it's flawless; as a story about losers becoming just as nasty as the winners they hate it works well as a cautionary tale; and as a portrait of a small town and its people that rivals the masters King obviously read as a youth--Thornton Wilder, James T. Farrell, James Jones and John Farris and his Harrison High.

One chapter alone illustrates what I'm saying. Dennis, the frequent narrator of this story, tries to trace the history of the car (I'm declining a spoiler) and so he goes to visit the brother of the dead man who originally bought it. I don't want to push literary references here but the chapter reminded me of Lord Jim and how the story is told in retrospect and dialogue. The brother relates in fascinating fashion the entire life stories of three people, birth to death. And it's as exciting as any action scene.

King gives us true lives, joys, sorrows, fears as they are lived out over many decades. As I was rereading this the past few days I realized that this I what I miss in so much contemporary fiction, the reality and beauty of the everyday as lived by most of us. There is a moment when he crushes us with the brother's tale and we're left with a mixture of awe and dread in equal parts. ASnd there are many moments in Christine that are its equal.

King has in recent years been accepted by the literary establishment as a peer. But those of us who read him from the git-go knew that long ago.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I've only read four or five King books, but this was one of them. It worked for me on all levels--scary, rich in detail, compelling story. He created a world to step into.

Ali Karim said...

Great peice Ed, though for me, Christine does hold a soft spot, it was not one of his best, but close.

You nailed why the heart of King's work appeals