Last week, my wife and I stood on the side of a four-lane suburban road, holding a bundle of balloons for our nephew’s first birthday party. We watched our faithful Hyundai Accent—Dante, we called him—as his tarnished form was hauled onto the tow truck. We were seriously rear-ended minutes before, and everyone involved was fine. Once we knew nobody was hurt, I turned to my wife and said: “Maybe If I wasn’t reading a book about an evil car, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Now we’re on the hunt for a new vehicle, and I can tell you one thing: we sure as hell won’t name it Christine.
Arnie Cunningham is, by many measures, a stereotypical teenaged loser, according to his friend Dennis. Arnie has few friends (Dennis might be his only friend), a lot of acne, good-enough grades, and a knack for fixing cars. When Arnie sees a beat-up ‘58 Plymouth on an old veteran’s lawn and becomes obsessed, Dennis thinks he must be off his rocker. Arnie buys the jalopy and starts to fix her—Christine, former owner Roland LeBay calls her—up. Arnie starts to change, first in ways Dennis thinks are good. And then, suddenly, everything starts to get sinister fast.
Christine follows a tried-and-true Stephen King story arc: What if [insert thing here] was evil? In this case, it’s a car. In true King fashion, though, the human stories surrounding the evil car are what make the novel stand out. King knows how to write characters that feel real. Arnie could be plucked out of any teen movie. He’s a misfit, has a small cadre of people he loves, and is very close with one friend who truly understands him. His parents care deeply about him, though his mom is overbearing and tries to control the trajectory of his life. Dennis, our narrator for much of the book, is just a normal guy. He works on cars and road projects with Arnie during the summers and plays on the football team at school. On weekend, he and Anrie bebop around town grabbing soda and pizza. Occasionally Dennis enjoys flings with cheerleaders.
King lulls you into a classic suburban stupor before he throws a wrench in the gears. And by “wrench,” I mean “evil car.” Most of Christine’s plot focuses on the day-to-day life of Arnie, Dennis, and the people who surround them. When Christine enters the fray, things take a darker turn, as any King fan will expect. Christine’s story is classic King fare, and it won’t offer all that much by way of surprise if you’ve read his work before.
Christine is one of the weaker King novels I read. Part of that chalks up to personal preference. I’m not a car guy. Don’t care about ‘em, beyond the fact that my wife and I now need to get a new one following our accident. It’s hard to relate to the elbow-greasing, cigar-smoking working men who work on their automobiles on their off hours. It’s a hobby I’ve never bothered to explore, and I don’t care to. So if you love cars, your mileage may vary (pun absolutely intended).
King sets Christine in decades past, so beware slurs of all sorts coming from many of the characters. There’s also an undercurrent of sexism. Most of the descriptions of women focus solely on their appearance, save for a few. Arnie and Dennis are teenagers, so it’s understandable to a degree. I bring it up so you can make your own choice whether to avoid the book based on the content within.
Christine her(it)self is the star of the show, predictably. Despite my indifference toward cars, she functions as her own character, and King’s descriptions of the vehicle’s “magic” are top-notch. Every scene containing Christine is a nail-biter, and that’s exactly what I expect from Stephen King when there’s an evil object involved.
I enjoyed Christine to an extent. I find King’s prose super readable, and even a 500+ pager speeds right along. It wasn’t my favorite, and it won’t be a game-changer for anyone on the fence about King. If you like him already, it’s worth checking out.
For an added bonus, check out my Page2Screen chat about Christine with Ian Simmons of Kicking the Seat, embedded below!
Rating: Christine – 7.0/10