Christine by Stephen King
I think it’s infinitely appropriate that Uncle Stevie is my sixtieth book on this journey. On my Kindle are several King books, newer ones and the ones I’m not sure that I’ve read or not. I got into Stephen King when I was ten or twelve. Always fascinated with horror stories, it was whenever in school we were given The Raven by Poe. So I devoured Poe. And then some sinister and wicked-hearted librarian steered me towards Stephen King. It was definitely in those formative years. I know the first sex scene I ever read was from The Tommyknockers. I read that motherfucker until it was burned into my retinas and it wasn’t even particularly salacious — a desperately fumbling where a pretty young thing reached under a plaid skirt and pulled down her Woolworth’s panties. But this from a generation that would stare fixated at scrambled porn signals for the prayerful glimpse of a tinted nipple. So I cut my teeth on Stephen King. But I can never remember which I had gotten to.
I knew the tale of Christine. A teenage boy’s car comes to life and kills his enemies. Stephen King loves his murdercars. Maximum Overdrive. From a Buick 8. Hell, his son even has The Wraith in NOS4A2. And they both did a killer trucker versus biker tale in Throttle. It’s hard not to think about killer cars.
But Christine is so much more than that. It’s a coming of age story in the most brutal fashion. A loser who finds a car, who finds his backbone and his energy in an automobile. He fights back against his parents, against his cooler friends, even against the girl who eventually falls for him. Too bad he’s fighting back because he’s haunted by the vengeful and bitter spirit of a complete shitter from WWII. It’s very much a young man’s tale. In fact, I was fascinated at the dichotomy between Christine and King’s later From a Buick 8, which is also about a murderous classic car. Only, in Buick 8, King has a bunch of old cops sitting around a picnic table, telling tales of the killer car. It’s the Portrait of an Artist in his Sunset Years. It’s compelling to compare the two stories, one from when King was still a young man starting out, dwelling on those teen years that were still within fingertip brushing reach, and the other from when he was much older and had birthed his own children fostering their tales. Both stories are excellently told, though truth be told, I probably prefer the seasoned Buick 8 slightly better. Christine is narrated through the unreliable eyes of Dennis, Arnie Cunningham’s footballer best buddy, and so it’s kind of got a dimmer patina to me. That’s how the story had to be told, and it thankfully doesn’t go for the happily ever after finale. But it’s still got a bit of a burr on it.
It actually made me realize how much — without having read it first — King’s influence has seeped into my own writing. The novel I’ve been working on for several years now, A Well-Oiled Machine, is very similar to Christine. I’m walking a different path, but it’s the same neighborhood. I’m inspired and pleased to have that grounded for me.