The Stephen King Project – Christine (1983)
About the project
I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 44 years since Carrie was first published.
Let me paint you a picture. It’s 1996. I am thirteen years old, wearing ugly glasses and probably uglier leggings. I am a geek, and although I have friends, I love nothing more than to read. I’ve read all of the books held in the children’s section of my local library, some of them more than once. I have devoured every Point Horror book available, as well as plenty of Christopher Pike and the Nightmares series. At times I’ve been so desperate that I’ve even read the Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club books, but my heart was firmly with horror.
So, the first weekend after my 13th birthday, I begged my parents to take me to the library so that I could get my adult library card. A whole new collection of books was suddenly available to me, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. After getting my new card and browsing the Horror shelves for a happy blur of time, I settled on a book called Christine by some guy called Stephen King. I had never heard of either before. I remember that I had to get my parents’ permission to borrow the book and I pleaded with them; mum wasn’t sure, she thought it might be a bit too grown-up for me (thankfully she had never read it herself or there would have been no way I would have gotten anywhere near it, far too much sex and bad language) but dad was more relaxed about it all. I remember him saying ‘let her try it, and if it’s too much she’ll put it down and read something else.’ Mum’s response was ‘if she’s up with nightmares, you can deal with her then.’
I’m happy to say that I got the book, and so began a love affair that has continued for the rest of my life.
Curiously, despite the fact that I often re-read books and have read many of King’s works several times, I have never revisited Christine. In fact, I could remember very little about it when I sat down to read it again for this project. Perhaps because I was too young when I read it to appreciate the deeper layers of the story. Perhaps because I’m not a car person. I only learned how to drive two years ago, and I still have little interest in cars beyond their usefulness in transporting my children from one activity to another.
Now, I appreciated the book more. I still doubt that it’ll ever be one of my favourite books by King, but with a catalogue the size that he has, there’s bound to be a few books I feel less of a connection to.
This time I understood that the story wasn’t just about a haunted car, but also about the difficult transition from teen to adulthood, the strain it can place on our relationships with both our friends and our parents.
Moments of the book are terrifying – when that car comes out of the dark to kill the boys who damaged it, when it drives through a wall to get to Darnell, and above all when Leigh and Dennis face it in the deserted garage – but for me the predominant emotion was sadness. The sadness of watching friendships disappear, of seeing that our parents aren’t perfect and a lot of the time don’t even know what they’re doing, and the sadness of knowing that something is hurting someone you care about and not being able to do a thing about it.
The book has an unusual structure – the first and third parts are told in first-person POV from Dennis Guilder, Arnie’s best friend and the first one to realise that there’s something terrible about the car that Arnie bought, besides it being a moneypit. The middle part of the book is told in third person, after Dennis ends up in hospital, removed from the main part of the action. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Arnie visits Dennis in hospital on Thanksgiving. For a couple of hours, the boys have their old friendship back and all is as it should be.
As well-written as you would expect from King, this book has a lot of heart, and despite its girth, did not drag or feel over-long. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a go and let me know what you think!