My experience with Christine parallels the life of the car itself. Initially, both the story and the car were, to the outside observer, more potential than reality. Like Arnie, though, I could only see that potential and was transfixed, the inherent silliness of the concept for the moment not registering. Further, once he plopped down the money and sat inside that hulking, rusting mass, and Christine really set the hook in, the affection I had for the story only grew.
Admittedly, King was helped along by the audiobook, which I’d switched to when I found myself too drowsy to continue on with the printed word. Similarly to how the audiobook for The Drawing of Three (read by the late, and undeniably great Frank Muller) brought Roland and the others to life in a way the written word alone could not, Christine’s ensconced me firmly within the lives of its characters. While I still balked at the idea of an autonomous screaming metal death trap with hypnotic and poisonous properties, I did so in a manner akin to Arnie’s friend Dennis. Absurd or not, I couldn’t deny the possibility felt frighteningly real.
Except, as Arnie rolled back the years, making Christine look as close to fresh-off-the-assembly-line as could be expected given what he had to start with, I noticed something off about it all, like Dennis. Just as he had, however, I tried to disregard it. But, before long, all subtlety had gone out the window and it could no longer be ignored. Not unlike the novella 1922 from Full Dark, No Stars, I would’ve preferred if King had kept the wheels on the road, so to speak, rather than soaring above it and into a figurative wall.
Up to a point, Arnie and the story as a whole felt sincere. The supernatural element was always left dangling out there, but you could just as easily disregard it if you wanted and paint Christine as a simple story of love turned unhealthy obsession. Arnie may undergo his own transformation opposite Christine’s, turning uglier inside and out each day, but he’s like Walter White in the sense that we can understand and, on some level, relate to him.
Eventually, though, there reaches a point where Arnie is fully unrecognizable, and so is the story itself. What started out as a slow burn revs its engine and begins to mow down everything King had so carefully constructed, seemingly just for the pleasure of seeing it happen. When there were only glimpses of this free-wheeling evil, it had a sinister quality to it. By comparison, when it’s finally out in the open, it’s as cartoonish as any B-movie monster and just as mind-numbingly difficult to do away with. There’s even the clichéd hint at its inevitable rise from the dead.
By the end, it was as if I’d been the one transported back in time rather than Christine, the closing pages feeling as if they were lifted from an unpublished entry in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. They weren’t without their moments, but the disappointment was so overwhelming I hardly noticed. It’s a shame, really, because Christine was shaping up to be one of King’s best. Then he had to go and do what he does best, shoot himself in the foot… repeatedly… and with great vigor.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.