Wednesday, July 26, 2006

From a Buick 8

I've gone through all the stages of Stephen King fandom. Reading books like The Shining and 'Salem's Lot and stories like "The Mist" were what got me hooked on horror in the first place. Then there came the time of discontent. This occurred contemporaneously with the publication of Gerald's Game and Delores Claiborne. These books were just not good, but even worse, I became convinced that the King had lost it. I still read him, but not with much enthusiasm.

Here is where I would ordinarily write"Until" and then relate the story of his great redemption and my re-entry into a glorious stage of admiration. Unfortunately, I can't. He did lose it. His books have come around some since then (Bag of Bones inspired me enough to take up writing), but they have not and will not reach the same heights that his early books did. In my mind, all reviews of his books have to maintain that frame of reference. That old standard can't be used, much as it would be unfair to compare Jonathan Franzen's work to Charles Dickens.

From a Buick 8 summoned these thoughts because it was a book I could imagine the old King making a tour de force. Instead, the new King created a serviceable read with some flashes of brilliance. As always, the characters are distinctive and fun to spend time with. I think that is King's greatest gift and what makes some of his books transcend genre-writing. Who can forget Jack Torrance in The Shining or Annie Wilkes in Misery? The book also had a lot more story than I thought it could have, given that it is mostly about a stationary car. I won't spoil anything, but there are some pretty chilling moments as he reveals exactly what that car really is.

The principal flaw of the story, and this can be gleaned from the book jacket, is that the story is told mostly in flashback form. This device eliminates most of the suspense from a lot of scenes that could have been real white-knucklers. I'm not sure that he could have fixed this, given some of the advantages the format provided, but it did tend to make the book a slog. An interesting slog, but a slog nonetheless.

Ultimately, I do recommend this book. It's not a page turner, but it's original. It helps that the characters are enjoyable, because you don't mind spending the extra time with them. Plus, I got a cool new (probably actually very old) saying out of it: "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back."



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