© 1983 Stephen King
It’s 1983, and Dennis Guilder is just starting to get a handle on what happened four years ago, in that last and terrible year of high school when his best friend lost his mind and the university town of Libertyville, Pennsylvania was visited by ten murders.
It all started the summer before their senior year, when they drove by a ruined car marked by a “For Sale” sign. The car — a 1958 Plymouth Fury — instantly enraptures Arnie Cunningham, Dennis’ friend and pimply ward. To Dennis, the rusting wreck is a horror to behold, a genuine money pit, and he pleads with Arnie not to buy it — but love is blind. Renting garage space from a shady businessman, Arnie devotes himself to restoring the hulk named ‘Christine’ to its — her — former glory. His devotion to Christine changes him. The timid high-school reject suddenly gains confidence, pride, defiance — and anger. The change unsettles those who know him, and it is only the beginning. As the months past, Arnie seems to be speaking with another man’s voice — a voice contemptuous and bitter.
And then there’s…Christine. Christine provokes an instant reaction from everyone who draws close. For Arnie, that feeling was love. To others — his parents, to Dennis, to his newly-found girlfriend Leigh — the car is spooky.It smells of death, and haunts those who are close to Arnie: they feel watched by cold eyes. Everyone but Arnie knows there is something wrong with this car: it should have been left to decay. As the year develops, Dennis digs into the history of Christine and the man who sold it hoping to find answers and realizes there’s far more to this story than a young boy and his first love. This is a car possessed — by hatred, by implacable maliciousness, and those who cross paths with it and those it claims as its own are destined to a grisly fate.
I’m not one for horror, usually: as mysterious and creepy as horror stories can be, the bite is usually dulled by their reliance on the chaotic and supernatural. Even so, King had me with Christine. I read it in two sittings, listening to the fifties hits that Christine always seemed to be playing and glancing from time to time at a large image of Christine displayed on my computer monitor. Christine is…spooky; a car seemingly lost in time. Throughout the novel I puzzled over the relationship between Christine and Arnie — what was it that held them together, and to the Fury’s previous owner? Did the car possess the man, or the man the car? What lives on this murderous car?
Christine is compelling and creepy, drawing the reader into a world of deathly nostalgia. I don’t recall either The Stand or Firestarter having this effect on me, nor did I notice the way King sometimes throws the reader under the bus of his characters’ horrified thinking. I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a little horror, although it’s a well-done novel even if you’re not in the mood for goosebumps.