BOOK (1983)

Rewind book: Christine, by Stephen King

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2013, 4:28pm


by Stephen King


Stephen King's 13th novel is a hymn to those twin masculine teenage obsessions: cars and rock'n'roll. As the author acknowledges, both are preludes to a third side of the adolescent love triangle: sex.

Each chapter of the novel is ushered in by lyrics about cars, driving or girls - and frequently all three. There are three pages of permissions for songs from the golden age of popular music - everyone from The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello and Chuck Berry is represented.

This sets the tone for a fable about an insecure young man, Arnie Cunningham, who is transformed from an awkward adolescent into a love god when he buys a beat-up red '58 Plymouth Fury. This is Christine, and it is love at first sight: "He was running round the car like a man possessed." However, it isn't long before the casualties left in Christine's slipstream make Formula 1 motor racing look as dangerous as flying kites.

Our narrator, Dennis, also Arnie's best friend, is mystified by the bond between Arnie and car. For him, Christine is simply a "bad joke, and what Arnie saw in her that day I'll never know".

Arnie withdraws into a world of his own as he begins a mechanical make-over of the car. Something similar happens to the teenager himself, who attains clear skin, an impressive physique and a tart sense of humour. It is not long before these attributes win him the hottest girl in school, Leigh Cabot.

Leigh thinks she knows the way to Arnie's heart, but a boy and his machine are not so easily parted. When Leigh almost chokes to death, she thinks that somehow Christine had willed it to happen.

Cars are easily fixed; life, love and people are something else entirely. As Arnie retreats ever further from reality, this horror story turns into something more profound - as so often happens with King.

It explores that peculiar moment just before men come of age, playing off the world of childhood against an adult universe. Songs and cars - in short the simplicity of things - butt heads with the complications of people and relationships.

Christine is a novel about leaving childish things behind that not only respects the power they exert but is half in love with the objects themselves. It is both of its time and prescient about our own: recent studies suggest some consumers enjoy closer relationships with their iPhones than with their flesh-and-blood friends.

James Kidd