Filler content with a classic car

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #32 (and fortunately the rumours of King’s retirement have proved to be premature):-

Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton hb, 404pp, £17.99

King’s latest novel, and possibly his last, this brings to mind an earlier work, his novella ‘The Mist’, published in the collection Skeleton Crew, though with the polarity reversed. In ‘The Mist’ a peculiarly Lovecraftian form of chaos had engulfed the world and a group of human survivors, sheltered inside the walls of a supermarket; here the world remains unchanged while the chaos is contained and waiting to break out.

Ned Wilcox, son of the recently deceased officer Curt, works during vacation time at a Pennsylvania State Police barracks and becomes fascinated by the contents of Shed B, a vintage 1954 Buick 8 car, which has been in police custody for over twenty years. He is told the strange story of the car and his own father’s involvement by Sergeant Sandy Dearborn and the other men of Troop D, a story that takes in inexplicable light storms and the appearance of things never before seen in this world. No one truly knows what the car is or where it came from, but the suspicion is that it is a gateway to some other dimension or reality, and that to tamper with it may be disastrous. And yet the car seems to have an intelligence of its own and want to be tampered with, drawing Ned into its web of seduction so that it almost destroys him.

Like King’s best work this story takes a simple premise, that of an alien artefact intruding into our reality, and develops the idea about as far as it can go, but it lacks the sense of closure usually found in his stories. There is no climactic final showdown between good and evil, just the sense of the long and slow winding down of some terrible process, one that is not necessarily evil at all, simply alien. Hanging back of it all is the subtext that there are things in this life that just can’t be understood or explained, emotional as well as physical, that ultimately things just don’t make sense and we have to accept that and go on with our lives, otherwise we face madness and despair. This is the true message of the book, the lesson that has to be learned by young Ned Wilcox, who is coming to terms not only with the contents of Shed B but also trying to comprehend what lay behind his father’s life and senseless death.

The book is written in King’s amiable, just-us-folks-here style that brings the characters to compelling life and makes even the most ordinary, everyday details seem gripping. The outré elements are incorporated seamlessly into the plot, delivered with restraint and a chilling attention to detail that makes suspension of disbelief easy for the reader, the effects building gradually to suggest a wholly different order of reality, but for all of that these things are only a catalyst for the human story. Ultimately From a Buick 8 is about the camaraderie of the PSP, a group of men and women who are, in the broadest and also trust sense of the word, a family, who care for each other, tolerate each other’s mistakes and applaud when one of them does well. You can’t rely on the world of cause and effect, but just maybe King seems to be saying, you can trust each other.

If King has indeed given up writing then he could ask for no finer note than From a Buick 8 with which to bring down the curtain on a distinguished career, one where commercial success has all too often distracted from the very real quality of the writing.

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