Let’s start by putting to right one of the criticisms I’ve heard about this novel, that King has written another Christine. Even the covers of both novels look similar. However, whilst Christine is about a possessed Plymouth Fury that roams around on its own looking for people to mow down, From a Buick 8 is not about a possessed Buick. This particular Buick, whilst it might have a personality of sorts, spends 90% of the novel cooped up in a State Barracks shed. And during the other 10%, it only ever moves when it’s being towed. “What’s so scary about that?” you might ask.
The trouble with the Buick is that sometimes things come out of it, appearing from nowhere – things that look as if they have no business being on planet earth. Worse still, sometimes things disappear; it takes them – to where, no one knows. But all the State Troopers of the Troop D Barracks know that it’s dangerous to get too close, especially when the temperature in the shed starts to go down.
The mysterious Buick is an impound. One day it showed up in the desert, with no owner to claim it. The State Troopers towed it away and kept it at the barracks – their own dangerous little secret to tickle their curiosity for the forseeable future. But of course, this is a Stephen King novel, and danger never stays dormant for very long.
Actually, let me correct that. In this novel, the danger lies dormant for pretty much 250 of its 400 pages. Stephen King, as his many wide-spined tomes testify, does not skimp on detail – especially when it comes to characters. From a Buick 8 takes a long time to climb up the gears, but when you’re finally zooming along at 100mph, you find yourself suddenly appreciating all that has gone before, because the lives of the people in the book feel all the more real when the final showdown begins. However, I don’t think King has quite got the balance right with this one. I may have persevered, but I know someone who quit at page 200.
The ending I can only describe as frustrating. There is a subtext to the novel, and subtexts can be great for elevating a story beyond mere entertainment, but here the subtext is allowed to take over, to the detriment of the story. Ultimately, I feel like I’ve read 400 pages for a brief philosophy lesson that would have been better placed in a short story, i.e. it wouldn’t have taken so long to read.
I have to admit that the final third of the novel was totally gripping. I even tackled a whole 70 pages in one sitting, which is something I rarely do.
With the exception of the excellent Wizard and Glass and possibly Hearts in Atlantis, I feel that much of what King has been doing in the last five years has been merely average. But then I suppose other readers will have other favourites from King’s recent yarns. Still, it’s hard to imagine From a Buick 8 occupying a special place in many hearts.