Saturday, September 13, 2008

Christine, by Stephen King

Outside of my recent read of The Gunslinger, I’ve been in something of a Stephen King funk. Over the last twelve months I’ve read three good King books (The Gunslinger, The Stand, Skeleton Crew) and five garbage King novels (The Colorado Kid, Blaze, Cujo, Firestarter, and Lisey’s Story). No matter how good the good was, and it was, well, good; the bad really stunk. While 3 for 8 would be an excellent batting average, 37.5% is not a good hit percentage for a writer.

I felt burned out, but my most recent read was The Gunslinger and that almost revitalized my interest in King except that The Gunslinger was part of a series and most of King’s work is standalone. The Dark Tower may be great, but the novels surrounding The Gunslinger and King’s most recent output has not been consistently stellar.

I was apprehensive before I opened the pages of Christine. I shouldn’t have been. Christine is Stephen King firing on all cylinders. It’s a bit overlong and drawn out, but King nailed this one. The novel is narrated by a guy saying bad things happened in the past (which means at least one person got out alive), but the story opens with the friendship of cool guy and football player Dennis Guilder and pimply faced outcast Arnie Cunningham. Dennis is the guy who made sure that Arnie didn’t get it worse in high school than he already got it, who made Arnie’s school life even remotely bearable. They were friends. The friendship is tested when Arnie sees a nearly junked car, a 1958 Fury that he falls in love with and becomes obsessed with. He buys the car and that’s when things begin to change.

Arnie’s face began to clear up, he got a beautiful girlfriend, but he was obsessed with the car and anyone who got near the car immediately disliked Christine, the 1958 Fury. A boy and his car, told as only Stephen King can. This can’t possibly end well.

I knew I was in good hands (pun intended) early on in the novel when the boys get into a fight and in the middle of the fight someone grabs and squeezes Dennis’s balls. Yeah, it’s a bit crude, but it isn’t the grabbing which really solidified my comfort with the novel, it was King’s description. The paragraph of description of the pain and the feeling of that act was so perfect, so spot on, so assured that right then I knew that Christine would be all right.
If you're a man and you've slammed your nuts a good one at some point (and what man has not), you know. If you're a woman, you don't - can't. The initial agony is only the start; it fades, to be replaced by a dull, throbbing feeling of pressure that coils in the pit of the stomach. And what that feeling says is Hi, there! Good to be here, just sitting around in the pit of your stomach and making you feel like you're going to simultaneously blow lunch and shit your pants! I guess I'll just hang around for a while, okay? How does half an hour or so sound? Great! Getting your nuts squeezed is not one of life's great thrills. - pg 144

He had me, well, by the...nevermind.

In this novel of young love, obsession, cars, friendship, teenaged angst, music, high school, history, betrayal, and a haunted car, Stephen King delivers the goods. As in most Stephen King novels he takes more than a few pages longer than absolutely necessary to tell the story. Of course he does. When King is working his magic, this does not matter. King’s narration is steady, it is assured.

Stephen King takes his time getting to the horror. He builds and builds and perhaps the real horror is not what the haunted car physically does, but rather what the horror really is in Christine is the deterioration of a friendship and the effects the obsession has on Arnie Cunningham.

Christine is a fully satisfying novel from Stephen King, the kind I hope he has more of in his back catalogue that I just haven’t read yet. Many writers may lead their readers along by taking their hand, but if King decides a more direct approach and brings the reader along by the balls, well, that’s only to be expected. At his best Stephen King makes the reader feel the story, makes the reader experience and imagine being in that place at that time. This is one of his better novels.

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