From a Buick 8
Stephen King
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Buy *From a Buick 8: A Novel* online

From a Buick 8
Stephen King
496 pages
September 2005
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Critics and Stephen King's "constant readers" have been quick to draw the obvious comparisons between From a Buick 8 and his early-career car-gone-mad novel Christine -- both feature a classic car as the villain, and both focus on unraveling the complex adolescent male need to make sense of the world and everyone's place in it. A closer side-by-side reading yields a more fascinating discovery: the evident maturation of a bestselling author who has had to make his peace with critics' assessment of him as a hack, but who has risen far above those critical expectations -- even if those literary types refuse to acknowledge it.  

A handful of colorful narrative voices tell the tale of the impersonally malevolent counterfeit Buick Roadmaster that has seized the imaginations -- and more than once, the lives -- of certain members of Pennsylvania State Patrol Troop D. It's a reluctant retelling, but something that Sergeant Sandy Dearborn hopes will lay to rest the demons haunting eighteen-year-old Ned Wilcox, whose trooper father Curt was lately killed by a drunk driver. But rather than putting those demons aside, the revelation of this hidden aspect of his father's life stirs up a dangerous fascination in Ned about the vehicle locked in Shed B -- the very sort of obsessive fascination that may have helped kill his father.

In 1979, a gas station attendant calls in a report about a cherry Buick abandoned at the pump by an uncomfortably strange man who has himself vanished. Then-Sergeant Ennis Rafferty and Trooper Curtis Wilcox answer the call, and they know almost immediately that there is something wrong with the car. Certain details are, like the oversized steering wheel that's more like something one expects to see on a ship.  Or like the fact that it's got no discernible engine. On a hunch, the troopers confiscate the vehicle, and soon very strange things start happening, like thirty-degree temperature drops around the car in midsummer, blinding lightquakes in Shed B, the company dog's weird attracted-repelled reaction to the Roadmaster.  Then the "car" spews out an unholy creature that dies almost immediately, and soon after Sergeant Rafferty disappears.

Now some twenty-odd years later, the car is still in the shed; the lightquakes less brilliant, the temperature drops less common. The company dog is long-dead, Curtis Wilcox more recently so, but the supposed Buick is still under determined guard by Troop D. Only, sparked by Ned's growing fixation, it seems to be gearing up for one last great granddaddy of a show, and it may be a bigger show than Sandy and the handful of other Troop D veterans can pull Ned back from.

From a Buick 8 is a masterful, spooky novel about grief, loss, the inexplicable nature of the world and cruel fate. For as little as really happens in the novel and for its mostly flashback form, it is still absolutely un-put-down-able. King (who was, in an odd coincidence, struck by a drunk driver after starting this novel) proves himself to be at the top of his form. But the reader gets a real sense, especially in this novel's almost elegiac tone, that the horrormeister is looking back over his career and preparing to sing his own eventual swan song. There are several promised novels yet unpublished, but constant readers best savor them -- and their author's mastery -- as springing from a necessarily finite well.

© 2003 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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