|Publisher:||Hodder and Stoughton|
As one takes on the challenge of reading the entirety of horror writer Stephen King’s catalogue in no particular order it dawns on said person (me) that there are so many different eras and versions of King. If you have read more than perhaps ten of his novels spanning several different eras this will make sense. I am not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the several faces of King, though that could possibly be a future project. What I will do though is review the 1983 novel Christine, which I believe to be under a glorified member of the vintage classification of King’s books. Known to more often than not combine elements of the supernatural within his spine-tingling tales, this story is no exception.
In the town of Libertyville, two high-schoolers Arnie Cunningham and Dennis Guilder are cruising down the street when Arnie spots the girl of his dreams. The ‘girl’ just happens to be a 1958 Plymouth Fury parked outside the owner’s house, and this car is in no way in any kind of good condition. It’s covered with rust and as Dennis proclaims on their initial examination of it: “looks like the Russian army marched over it on their way to Berlin”. This of course does nothing to deter Arnie, and from that day onward we just know that getting this car may just be the beginning of something very, very ominous.
Arnie purchases the car from a man named Roland LeBay who could never be considered a ‘good guy’. He’s rude, crude, surly and downright mean, and it is with great fear that Dennis goes along with his friend’s decision to buy this car. Let’s face it though; did he really have a choice in the matter? In some ways it almost seems as though Arnie didn’t really have a choice or a chance either…
After Arnie’s parents refuse to let him keep the car at home, he is forced to rent garage space from a dodgy guy called Will Darnell, who may or may not be mixed up in smuggling illegal goods across state lines. Over time though it becomes increasingly obvious to garage owner Darnell that he has seen this car before and its not making him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In fact no one close to Arnie feels any affinity towards Christine, except Arnie, and Arnie won’t hear a bad word about ‘her’.
Along comes Leigh Cabot, and the pimply-faced Arnie who never had a girlfriend before falls in love with the ‘prettiest girl in school’, and for a time it seems as though he might just be able to get away from the seemingly evil clutches of Christine as Leigh feels the same way about Arnie. He’s more confident now, and even his skin is clearing, but Christine is starting to take over every waking moment of his young life – not only is he spending all his time working on her at Darnell’s garage, he’s also starting to lie about the amount of time he spends with ‘her’.
On one particular day at Libertyville High Arnie and Dennis are attacked by a group of bullies. A knife is drawn and the incident ends in the knife puller being expelled. Suddenly Arnie has enemies, and those enemies know exactly how to exact revenge on him – through Christine. This does not end well – not for Christine, not for Arnie, but especially not for the kids who dared to try and cross the red and white Plymouth with a talent for making people disappear.
And so begins the tragically gruesome tale of a car that seems to be the embodiment of an evil man who may have been responsible for his wife and daughter’s deaths in the 1960’s, and sold his car to a kid looking for purpose in the late 1970’s. Told to a rock and roll soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Richie Valence, Janis Joplin and The Beach Boys to name a few, this novel is a lot more than simply the story of a killer car. In the midst of it all Arnie and Dennis are growing up in a world that is vastly different from the naïve 1950’s, and by 1979 when the novel is set the world has become a much darker place than the hand-holding days of The Beatles.
King was and still is brilliant at describing a suburban late 70’s/early 80’s small town America where “rope clothes-lines spanned scruffy back yards which were, in more temperate seasons, littered with kids and Fisher-Price toys – in too many cases, both kids and toys had been badly battered”. It is within this context, and the genuine fear I felt whilst reading this novel that I feel justified in claiming that Christine is indeed ‘vintage’ King. Just like Pet Sematary (1983), Carrie (1974) and Cujo (1981), suburbia in the 70’s and 80’s and all the clichés that go with it are only really made truly horrifying by one person, and that person, for me, will always be Stephen King. What lies behind the front door of a family home could be a killer housewife or a deadly washing machine and it doesn’t matter because King will make that scary and that’s the point. Maybe he was always trying to make the ideals of the American Dream a little frightening, or maybe he always simply knew that the whole damn thing is a horror story. Maybe think about that.
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