“Christine” (Post 1/3)

Christine 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2

Post 3


Stephen King’s 1983 novel. I read a lovely first edition.

2 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 3

Seen the Movie: No

The Plot:

High school football-star Dennis and awkward, acne-cursed Arnie are best friends. The summer before their senior year, Arnie impulsively buys a run-down 1958 Plymouth Fury. When Arnie becomes dangerously obsessed with the car, Dennis uncovers its past and finds an evil at work on his friend.

Or, the killer car story.

I accept the premise. My problems are not with the ridiculousness of the plot. I will not ask how or why Christine exists. She does and that’s fine.

I am going to ask why this book runs nearly five hundred pages, why it switches from first person to third (and back again), and how it justifies leaning on nightmares and visions instead of real action. (No one dreams as on-the-nose as Stephen King characters. No, sir.)

Christine is uneven and indecisive, more first draft than finished product. King would have had a solid novella on his hands if he had edited it down to the essentials. Instead…


[1] Reference:

“I et dust in Texas and seen crabs as big as lobsters in some o them Nogales whoredens.”

(p.10)

There is a Nogales in Arizona and in the Mexican state of Sonora (the cities are just across the border from each other). Neither of which are very close to Texas.

[2] Reference:

“I got my four-thirty story to watch. Edge of Night.”

(p.11)

The Edge of Night was a half-hour American mystery series/soap opera which aired from 1956 to 1984. It was unique among daytime soap operas in that it focused on crime, rather than domestic and romantic matters.

LeBay’s comment about “four-thirty” leads to continuity confusion. In the same conversation (and what seems to be only five or ten minutes later), LeBay says:

“It’s going on five-thirty.”

(p.13)

[3] Reference:

We had been working all summer for Carson Brothers on the I-376 extension, the one which natives of the Pittsburgh area firmly believe will never really be finished.”

(p.12)

The first section of what would eventually become I-376 opened in June 1953. According to Wikpedia, it sounds like the route through Pittsburgh wasn’t finished until the early 1990s.

[4] Reference:

They could quote you chapter and verse on the Alan [sic] Bakke case until you fell asleep.

(p.17)

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. It upheld affirmative action, allowing race to be one of several factors in college admission policy. However the court ruled that specific racial quotas, such as the 16 out of 100 seats set aside for minority students by the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, were impermissible.

Allan Bakke (b.1940) was denied admission to colleges despite good test scoring and background because of his age. He was aware of minorities being admitted to programs with significantly lower test scoring and brought a suit against the University of California.

[5]

There are moments when adults disgust you in ways they would never understand; I believe that, you know.

(p.22)

[6]

The sky was a sweet peach color.

(p.24)

[7]

I’d never seen him so mad. If he had a gun right then, I believe he would have put it to LeBay’s temple. I was fascinated in spite of myself. It was as if a rabbit had suddenly turned carnivore. God help me, I even wondered fleetingly if he might not have a brain tumor.

(p.29)

[8] Reference:

Coming home from the VFW hall after a night of drinking boilermakers.

(p.30)

A boilermaker can refer to two types of beer cocktail. In American terminology, the drink consists of a glass of beer and a shot of whiskey. In Philadelphia, it is commonly referred to as a Citywide Special. In the United Kingdom, the term boilermaker refers to a half pint of draught mild mixed with a half pint of bottled brown ale.

[9] References:

Robin Luke wailing “Susie Darling.”

(p.32)

Robin Luke (b.1942) is an American rockabilly singer best known for his 1958 song, “Susie Darlin’”. Luke wrote and recorded “Susie Darlin,’” named after his then five-year-old sister, Susie.

[10] I don’t know if King is being clever here (Arnie will eventually be possessed by LeBay) or if he accidentally used the same name twice. (And it’s a mark of the shaky quality of this book that I can’t tell.)

Arnie lived on Laurel Street.

(p.16)

As Arnie is driving Christine away from LeBay’s house:

It was as if someone had just opened up with a machine-gun on Laurel Drive.

(p.36)

[11] Reference:

An automobile jack so old that it almost looked as if it might once have been used for changing wheels on Conestoga wagons.

(p.38)

The Conestoga wagon is a heavy, covered wagon that was used extensively during the late eighteenth century, and the nineteenth century, in the eastern United States and Canada. The term Conestoga wagon is not a generic term for “covered wagon.” A true Conestoga wagon was too heavy for use on the prairies.

[12]

If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.

(p.42)

This seems overwrought to me now, but I loved all the teen vs. adult, youth-angst aspects of Christine when I was thirteen.

[13] This is solid, witty, taking-care-of-business King:

Darnell walked with the graceful, almost feminine movements of a man who has been fat for a long time and sees a long future of fathood ahead of him.

(p.49)

[14] Fact Check! What the hell is this?

My dad and my sister were sitting in the kitchen eating brown-sugar sandwiches.

(p.54)

Apparently bread, butter and sugar sandwiches are much-loved.

And apparently, I escaped at least one vice in my tubby childhood.

[15] We need to talk about the construction of this book regarding its (sometimes) narrator, Dennis. Was this King’s first full-length novel written in first person? King doesn’t seem comfortable moving the narrative this way. In fact, I know damned well he wasn’t comfortable because he switches to third-person in the middle of the book before switching back to Dennis for the end. This is highly irregular.

Also, Dennis was eighteen when the main events of Christine took place. He is narrating it from four years in the future, putting him in the area of twenty-two. To my thirty-something brain, a twenty-two-year-old would not have such a world-weary “looking back after all these years” tone. Four years after an event is nothing. Dennis is talking like he’s at least in his forties.

Please imagine a twenty-two year old saying this about his sister:

At fourteen Elaine was beginning to leave her childhood behind and to turn into the full-fledged American beauty that she eventually became.

(p.54)

This makes it sound like Elaine is now dead and/or a hell or a lot older than eighteen/nineteen.

Another issue with Dennis’s narration is a continual confusion of his intent when he uses “is” and “was.” For example:

My dad is a tax-consultant for H&R block. He also does freelance tax work. In the old days he used to be a full-time accountant for the biggest architectural firm in Pittsburgh, but then he had a heart attack and got out.

(p.55)

What are the “old days”? The summer before Dennis’s senior year or before it? Had Dennis’s father already had his heart attack when Arnie bought Christine or was it coming? (Some of this is cleared up later on, but King leaves us in confusion for quite a while.)

My mom is forty-three and works as a dental hygienist. For a long time she didn’t work at her trade, but after Dad had his heart attack, she went back.

Four years ago she decided she was an unsung writer.

(p.55)

Forty-three when Dennis is twenty-two or when he was eighteen? When Dennis says “four years ago,” we learn later that he means when he was eighteen but on a first reading, it sounds like he is referring to four years before Arnie buys Christine.

(Bless your sweet mind if the above made sense to you.)

[16] Reference:

I once heard about some millionaire who had a stolen Rembrandt in his basement where no one but him could see it.

(p.64)

The most famous stolen Rembrandt (still missing) is The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633). It was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, Massachusetts in 1990. It has entered folklore/urban legend in popular culture, shown in the possession of fictional characters like Selina Kyle (Catwoman).

..but Christine was published in the early 80s, so what Rembrandt would King be referencing?

[17] Reference:

“What’s it called?”

“I don’t know. Fists of Danger. Flying Hands of Death. Or maybe it was Genitals of Fury.” (…)

We went. It turned out to be a Chuck Norris movie, not bad at all.

(p.65)

In 1978 Chuck Norris was in a movie called Good Guys Wear Black about an ex-US Army commando. If Arnie and Dennis were seeing an old Norris movie (re-released), they could have seen Breaker! Breaker! (about a truck driver), Karate Cop, or The Way of the Dragon (which I doubt, as it’s starring Bruce Lee and Arnie specifically says “Nah. Some other guy” when Dennis asks if Bruce Lee is in it).

[18] Another part I loved at thirteen:

A kid named Roger Gilman beat the living shit out of him. That’s pretty fucking vulgar, I know, but there’s just no fancy, elegant way to put it. Gilman just beat the living shit out of Arnie.

(p.69)

[19] Reference:

“Fuck you and the cayuse you rode in on, Range Rider.”

(p.73)

Cayuse is an archaic term used in the American West, usually referring to a feral or low-quality horse or pony.

The Range Rider was an American Western television series that aired from 1951 to 1953.

[20]

“Love is the enemy.” He nodded at me slowly. “Yes. The poets continually and sometimes willfully mistake love. Love is the old slaughterer. Love is not blind. Love is a cannibal with extremely acute vision. Love is insectile; it is always hungry.”

(p.85)

[21] Reference:

“She was from West Virginia. Near Wheeling. She was what we then called shirt-tail southern, and she was not terribly bright.”

(p.90)

A shirttail relative is a relative by marriage or only distantly related. I’m guessing George LeBay is referring to the fact that West Virginia is hardly “southern” at all (in a literal geographic sense) and Wheeling, in the very northern part, is only about an hour west of Pittsburgh.

[22] Reference:

The year before I had seen part of a long TV show, one of those novels for television called Once an Eagle.”

(p.90)

Once an Eagle is a 1968 war novel by Anton Myrer. Myrer wrote his novel to warn against ambition without principle and the military-industrial complex. A television mini-series based on the book was aired on NBC in 1976 with Sam Elliott in the lead.

[23] Reference:

“He was like Prewitt in From Here to Eternity. He would advance, and then he would be busted back down for something.”

(p.90)

Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is one of the lead characters in James Jones’ debut novel From Here to Eternity (1951). From the plot description, it sounds like Prew is given opportunities, then gets in a fight or trouble and finds himself worse off.

[24] Reference:

“He washed her twice a week and Simonized her twice a year.”

(p.93)

simonize

verb – (United States) – polish (a motor vehicle).

The word entered the public lexicon because of Simoniz USA, Inc., an American manufacturer of automobile and janitorial products. The original Simoniz Company was founded in 1910, making it the oldest car care brand in the United States.


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