My Year of King, #13-Christine

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Love at first sight. There's no other way to describe the feeling teenager Arnie Cunningham gets the first time he sees the 1958 red-and-white Plymouth Fury rusting away in the tall grass with a "For Sale" sign in the window. Thus begins the long and terrifying odyssey of a boy and his evil, demonic car known as Christine. The narrator of King's 13th novel Dennis Guilder has a bad feeling about the car from the start, but Arnie quickly becomes unnaturally attached to her. Named Christine by her previous owner, the car begins to exhibit unusual behavior right from the start. Her odometer runs backwards. Her dented bumpers and ripped upholstery begin to repair themselves. Her radio only plays songs from the 1950s. As Christine begins to rise from the rust heap to some semblance of her former glory, Arnie himself begins to change. His teenage acne clears up. He becomes more confident, standing up to his parents for the first time in his life. He starts working for the shady owner of the garage where he "works" on Christine, though he often can't remember making the repairs to her engine or exterior once they appear. He even gets the courage to ask out the new girl, Leigh Cabot, even though you could only describe his previous experience with girls as non-existent. With a new girlfriend, a new car, and new-found strength and maturity, Dennis should have been happy for his friend, but as the year goes on and Arnie becomes more and more obsessed with Christine, Dennis can only be afraid-for Arnie, and for anyone who comes between Christine and her new owner. When the deaths start, Dennis and Leigh try to convince themselves that they are imagining the malevolence they feel whenever they ride in Christine, but eventually they can no longer ignore the evil influence she has on Arnie, who has begun to change in ways that scare them both. But how to destroy the evil that resides in Christine's shiny chrome mirrors and gleaming red-and-white frame?

So far, I've enjoyed most of King's books just as much 30 years later as I did when I first read them, and this one is no exception. It follows some of King's now-familiar themes and motifs; children or teenagers as protagonists, an every day object possessed by something evil, and a weird psychological connection between said object and some poor slob who was just going about his life. This is one of the things that make King's works more than just monster stories. You can't help but have sympathy for Arnie, even as he becomes increasingly hostile and irrational. My only real criticism is that Dennis's character seems a little too good to be true. He's a little too mature, a little too self-assured, and a little too willing to stay friends with someone who was essentially popularity poison. But King does in Christine what King does best; exploring how regular people respond in extraordinary circumstances.

I don't remember loving the movie made from this novel, but then I really haven't liked most of the movies made from King's books, the most recent version of It being the one notable exception. I think that the special effects available at the time just weren't up to the creep-factor that the self-driving, murderous Christine required to be truly terrifying.

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