Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

I don't have a whole lot to say about From a Buick 8. The book opens in the present day, but the story really begins years earlier, when a Buick is abandoned at a little gas station in the middle of nowhere, owing to the driver going to the bathroom and never coming back. It looks, in most ways, like a normal car, but there are a few things off about it. One side has more windows than the other, and somehow it's completely spotless. It doesn't even appear to have an engine. The police, including Ennis Rafferty who narrates most of the book, tow the car back to the station and put it in storage. Strange things start happening almost immediately: eerie midday lightshows, unidentifiable objects and creatures emerging from the trunk, and so on. Eventually, it becomes evident that the Buick isn't really a car at all, but some sort of dimensional gateway.

Eventually people start dying, of course, but that's where Buick gets interesting. Although Rafferty implies most of the officers believe that the various tragedies visited on the station are because of the car, the story never ties things up so neatly. Nothing really occurs, besides possibly the final scene, that couldn't have happened in the exact same way minus the car. An officer disappears, one is hit and killed by a semi, one's marriage begins dissolving. In the heat of things, it seems reasonable to assume that these things came with the title of the “car”, but it's also defensible that the car serves as a MacGuffin, a plot device to allow King to tell the story he really wants to, one about people. People with misplaced priorities, people who can't live in the present, people who make bad decisions. The various narrators mostly sound like people who've been through life and learned nothing from it. They take turns blaming the car for every bad thing that's happened in the last twenty years, none them considering that the real problem might lie not with the car, but with them.

In that sense, Buick actually has more in common with King's non-supernatural stories like The Body than with Christine. Human wickedness is all we conclusively see. The supernatural evil, such as it is, is never explained. No one ever steps through to the other dimension and confronts the makers of the Buick. There are no otherworldly messengers warning of imminent doom. Even the climax is understated, with victory arriving more by the passage of time than by any particular move on the part of the officers. That said, Buick is interesting and thought-provoking without being particularly good. If you like King, especially late-era rambly King, you'll probably like this. If you're not a fan or you've never read anything of his, start somewhere else.

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