I’ve read almost everything Stephen King has written. Needless to say I’m a big fan, though I can also admit that not everything King produces is equal. The sad part about getting towards the end of his body of work (though King’s still alive and writing—thank goodness!) is since it’s pretty easy to get a feel for what is and isn’t in high regard I’m somewhat getting to “the dregs,” i.e. I prioritized my titles and I didn’t save the best for last. Now enter From a Buick 8, published in 2002. And guess what? It truly is pretty good!
And purposefully, I’m not saying “It isn’t that bad!” Again, it’s pretty good, and I think I can put my finger on why among King fans Buick 8’s reputation isn’t the greatest. In June of 1999 King was walking on the side of the road and was hit by a car. The accident famously resulted in a broken hip, collapsed lung, and a hiatus from writing for some time. And I’m saying “famous” here not just because this was a near-death experience of a house-hold name, but also because King has chronicled the accident and recovery in both his memoir On Writing and in his bestselling fantasy series The Dark Tower (fiction, oddly enough).
Anyway, there’s no doubt his writing was affected by this event, and Dreamcatcher, King’s first novel published after the accident, is weird. Or perhaps “uncharacteristic” is a better choice of word, because lots of King novels are “weird.” Dreamcatcher meanders and seems like a break in style from the King novels that immediately preceded it, and though I liked it, most King fans don’t (I truly did appreciated the change of pace). The novel King published after Dreamcatcher was From a Buick 8, a fact which until recently I did not know. And if I had known I would have read it sooner. So basically, if you are reading this and hated Dreamcatcher, probably don’t pick this novel up. But as I basically said and will keep saying, slow can be good.
So Buick 8 is about a mysterious car that a police squad inherits, and the car’s trunk is a portal to another dimension. What I like about Buick 8 is its purposeful attention on the art of storytelling—this isn’t a book about a magical car, really, but rather about people telling each other about the magical car. The novel is about communication, and especially as that relates to cross-generational communication and communication about trauma. And indeed, someone gets hit by a car here like what happened to King. The narrative is told first person from a few different perspectives, and with a huge hesitance towards showing action it really seems like an anti-Christine. So it’s King riffing on his own work—that’s fun.
The blog here has been a little slow, owing to how (as mentioned before) I’ve been traveling to places like Alaska for my grandmother’s funeral. I don’t think I’d always be in a mood to read something like From a Buick 8, which truly does take its sweet time, but I was this summer. And what makes the novel even more nifty? A traditional King afterword, talking about his own accident. Anyway, I don’t need to analyze anything here about car accidents and writing about cars—King did it himself. So perhaps it’s worth checking out for that alone, or if you have suffered the death of a loved-one recently, you might find what it says apt. I certainly did, anyway.
–Jeff and Leah