CHRISTINE Review

Christine - Stephen King

Synopsis: It was love at first sight. From the moment seventeen-year-old Arnie Cunningham saw Christine, he knew he would do anything to possess her.

Arnie’s best friend, Dennis, distrusts her—immediately.

Arnie’s teen-queen girlfriend, Leigh, fears her the moment she senses her power.

Arnie’s parents, teachers, and enemies soon learn what happens when you cross her.

Because Christine is no lady. She is Stephen King’s ultimate, blackly evil vehicle of terror . . . 

 

*****

 

Stephen King is a man of numerous literary skills, and he's my favorite author. He's written some of my all-time favorite novels, period (Duma Key and The Dead Zone immediately spring to mind), but he's also written a few clunkers along the way. It's understandable — the man has been in the writing game for over four decades now, and they can't all be winners. In fact, I'm thankful for the stories I'm not so keen on because they make the home runs all the more rewarding. I can probably count on one hand the books by King I consider to be genuine losers (and we will get to those in due time) . . . Christine ain't one of 'em. Yes, I only gave it 2 and 1/2 stars, but I don't think it's a loser. It's a novel that sits comfortably in the middle of the road — it isn't bad thanks to King's incredible writing, but isn't phenomenal (or even good), either.

 

 

This was the novel that made me a Constant Reader (as King so affectionately calls his dedicated fans) years and years ago, but I hadn't ever taken the time to reread it. Perhaps I knew deep down that it wouldn't stand up to a reread and close look as so many other King works do — and I was right. I loved this book when I read it for the first time. I zipped through it in a day, breathless, anxious to see what happened next. I was in the clutches of King's prowess. This reread took a solid week, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes at cliched dialogue or scares that . . . well, aren't so scary (the corpse of someone who won't be named returning over and over inside Christine is supposed to terrify, but all it did was give me the giggles). Psychological terror scares me — not gross-out. The brutal self-examination of Jack Torrance in The Shining or Carrie White's desperate longing to fit in . . . those are situations that pull on my heartstrings and nerves, so when unfortunate events happened to those characters I was scared and deeply empathetic. King tries similar tricks here — Arnie being bullied throughout is a definite callback to the locker room horrors of Carrie, and his obsession with Christine brings to mind Jack's love affair with the Overlook Hotel — but it all comes off as a middling, been-there-done-that affair. There isn't anything brought up in this story that hasn't been done before — and better! — by SK. By this point in King's career he was a multi-million dollar success, high on fame and cocaine, and perhaps Christine was the first time editors were afraid to really cut the fat off the writing. The story — larded with cliché after cliché, often spinning its wheels — could have worked well in twenty or thirty pages as a short story but instead is bloated at over 500 pages, making it King's second largest novel to date at the time of its release in 1983. I can't completely explain it, but one gets the feeling of King giving in to all of his excesses here.

 

So . . . Okay, yeah, I'm not a big fan of the novel. Why would I give it 2.5 stars? Why not just slap a single star on it and call it done? What did I like about it? As I mentioned before, King's writing makes this story an enjoyable ride even if the characters are flat at best and the conceit (a haunted car? really?) is . . . silly, to be charitable. This is a story from the man who brought vampires to New England — and made them so believable! — in 'Salem's Lot. He made clowns terrifying for generations in IT. He made the thought of telepathy unnerving, almost maddening, in The Tommyknockers. And . . . . King makes the idea of a haunted car seem almost plausible here, and by the story's end the reader will have come to love Christine in a weird sort of way. She's a possessed, scorned, and jealous lover who only wants what she feels is hers. Not to mention she's a pretty darn cool car!

 

As well, I really enjoyed Arnie's gradual descent into obsession and possession out of a desperate attempt to escape his boring, loser life — he thinks of his life that way, anyway. Arnie's arc is nothing short of a tragedy, perhaps one of King's most heartbreaking and lonesome character pieces. Arnie's loneliness is palpable, his yearning for love and freedom stark and electrifying. King writes gradual descent into insanity really well and always has.

 

 

There is a lot more I could and should say about this novel, but I'm trying to cut it short here. Christine is a totally okay novel, but it's certainly nothing special. King once said he's the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries, and while I almost never agree with that sentiment . . . I have to agree with him when it comes to this book. It's a big and greasy story with no nutritional value whatsoever, but it's a lot of fun to consume. King's love of cars and rock and roll is on full display here, and he gets all the mileage he can out of it. The characters — aside from Arnie at times — feel like cardboard cutouts, with Dennis and Leigh being the worst. This is a story with a lot of problems (Dennis is an annoying and sexist narrator, the random POV shift from first person to third is weird and confusing, the forced love triangle between Dennis, Leigh, and Arnie is tiring to read, et cetera), but it has a lot of heart and seems to know it's just a goofy, pulpy '80s horror story and doesn't try to be anything more. This is certainly not King anywhere near his best, but it's okay. It is a story about a haunted car, so you get what you pay for. I wouldn't recommend it to newcomers, but it could be a fun read for established fans.

 

King connections:

 

Christine shows up in several later novels and stories from King, such as IT and 11/22/63. 

 

A fellow in this story bears the last name Trelawney, a name that sometimes pops up throughout King's fiction.

 

Favorite quote: 

 

“Maybe that’s one of the ways you recognize really lonely people . . . they can always think of something neat to do on rainy days. You can always call them up. They’re always home." 

 

Up next:

 

I'll either backtrack and cover Different Seasons or go forward with Pet Sematary . . . stay tuned!