Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist... Published author (https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp-ebook/dp/B07XBDP2RF/) & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 27th 2020
A car, death and the supernatural - what more do you want?
I think I am the only person in the world who has this as their favourite book (at least, that was the impression I got when I last mentioned it). In fact, the critics savaged it. I have a feeling even King himself is not overly keen on it, considering he wrote another haunted car tale From A Buick 8 in 2002. But I do not care. This is a book that struck me from the first time I read it, which would have been about 1985 or so. I re-read it a few years later and still loved it. I read it again in the early 2000s, and the last time was in 2016. I skimmed it through for this as well. I think the only book I've read as often is King's On Writing and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
As you may have guessed, Stephen King is my favourite author. While I know I will never write as well as him, he keeps me writing and trying to sell my stories. My very modest success thus far can be attributed, at least in part, to Mr King and his fine works.
Back to Christine.
Quick synopsis (spoiler alert!): Arnie Cunningham is a bit of a loser, while his best friend (maybe his only friend), Dennis is a jock. Out driving, they see an old, run-down Plymouth Fury for sale. Roland, the current owner, is a bit of a terrible man, but Arnie buys the car. Over the next period of time, Arnie does the car up and gets a girl. But
Arnie starts to take on some of Roland's characteristics and Dennis discovers some of the history of the car, including some tragic deaths involved. Arnie's girlfriend Leigh almost dies in the car as well. Then some deaths involving an unknown car start to occur. And, to further complicate matters, Leigh and Dennis begin a relationship. It turns out the car is driving itself to protect Arnie, and then repairing itself completely afterwards. Dennis has an accident and is laid up in hospital, but things only get worse. Then the car acts independent of Arnie, eventually maybe killing him, until Dennis and Leigh manage to get it.
All right, it is a standard horror book. The writing is not as tight as some other King books. And, like I said, the critics and most fans felt the work was a come-down.
So what did I like about it? What makes it stand out to me above everything else I've read?
First is the narrative voice. The book is split into three parts. The first and last are narrated by Dennis, first-person point of view, which gives us the world through his eyes and we learn as he learns. First-person often works really well in horror. Many modern-day "experts" say not to write in first-person point of view; I say they're wrong. But the middle section, while Dennis is laid up in hospital, is told in third person point of view (third-person omniscient, if you want to get technical). While the narrative voice is similar to Dennis', the change in point of view works to me. Suddenly we know what's going on, and when we get back to inside Dennis' mind, we have more knowledge than him, so our sense of dread based on what we already know is heightened, while he doesn't know it and so we are worried for him. It increases our emotional response to all that is happening.
Next is the characters. Dennis is a little bland, but that does make it easier for the reader to project themselves onto the character, especially when he is narrating. Leigh is a bit stereotypical as the damsel in distress, but even she shows some elements of strength that does lift her above the usual female in books like this. But it is Arnold Cunningham that is the most intriguing. His slow descent into being possessed by Roland is shown eerily and, to me, it felt like it worked well. Changing his appearance, hurting his back, becoming suspicious of everyone and everything it was well done. And then there is Christine. It actually feels like this car has a personality. Maybe it is Roland, but it feels like the car is a legitimate character.
Finally, there was the ending. It was left open-ended was Christine really gone? Yes, Arnie had a tragic end, but maybe that was the only way his story arc could finish. But the thing I liked most of all Leigh and Dennis did not end up happily ever after. It was the first book I read where the leads did not end up together, and it made perfect sense. It felt more realistic.
The loose writing style seemed more like the train of thought of a young adult faced with the sort of horror these characters were going through. The descriptions of the car's rampages are really well done, and the story told by Roland's younger brother has the genuine sense of someone reliving pain.
And a similar car makes an appearance in 11/22/63, and a friend of mine who considers It King's master-work tells me that it appears there as well (though I don't remember that; I've only read It once, that thirty years ago). So is Christine a recurring character in the Derry stories?
In 1983, John Carpenter made a film version of the book that I did not see for many years. I tended to avoid films based on books I loved after hating Kubrick's version of The Shining. But I watched this at an all-night horror night when I was 18, 19 years old. I did NOT like it. Watching it again in the early 2000s, it's okay, but I really prefer the book.
However, there is one thing Carpenter did with the film that stands up today. Christine's regeneration in front of Arnie. This was done with only practical effects, no computer graphics, no CGI, no stop motion animation. This this makes the film for me.
So, yes, I admit that like many things, I am very much in the minority with this one, but that's okay. It takes all sorts and I am this sort. The eclectic choices of music I like, the different films I enjoy, the books I prefer all go to make me me. You might not agree with me, but that's all right as well.
Christine by Stephen King is my favourite book. That's it.