From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
You ever make a meal comprised only of a bunch of leftovers that don’t really match? That’s how you end up eating half a Salisbury steak with the sweet-n-sour chicken from last night’s take-out. Stephen King loves doing that only it’s with books instead of food.
Here we have a hunk of Christine served up with stray bits from The Tommyknockers, and it’s all done using one of his preferred methods of having a character tell a long rambling story. Uncle Stevie then seasons it up with a lot of wistful thoughts on days gone by. Call it King Casserole Surprise.
The story here is told to the teenage son of a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper who was killed in the line of duty, and it’s about a strange car that his father impounded twenty years before. The car was abandoned at a gas station and at first glance was a 1954 Buick 8 Roadmaster in pristine condition, but closer examination shows a lot of odd things that indicate the car isn’t a car at all. After one of their troopers disappears they all believe that the Buick is somehow responsible, and they decide to keep the car stashed in a shed at their headquarters. Supposedly it’s to protect the public, but there’s also a healthy amount of curiosity that turns into near obsession on the part of some of the troopers including the dead boy’s father who spends the next two decades trying to unravel the secret of the Buick.
This is not one of King’s best books, and one of the biggest problems is that he tries to have it both ways. A large point of the story is supposed to be that there are some mysteries that we’ll just never solve, and that we have to make peace with that when we run across it. Which is fine, but if you’re going to play it that way then the mystery of the Buick needs to really be unknowable. What King does instead is to beat us over the head with that theme of acceptance, but then he pretty much goes ahead and tells us what the car is anyhow.
Plus, the weird things the Buick does get fairly predictable. Yeah, I know, that’s part of the point. The story makes it clear that the car and it’s occasional crazy happening became just part of the routine for everyone who knew it was back there, but then King has to have it unleash unspeakable horrors a couple of times which make it hard to believe that anyone could just go to work every day knowing it was back there instead of just being an oddity they deal with once in a while. The cops also seem to take the disappearance of one of their own fairly lightly.
While this comes in at a relatively tight 350 pages for a later work by Uncle Stevie it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough story here to justify it. As it stands it would have made a better short story or novella, but at this length it feels like there’s both too much and not enough at the same time.
Despite all my misgivings I kinda like this one, but it’s for mainly personal reasons. My mother worked as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department of our rural Kansas county when I was growing up, and their office was just a block away from my grandmother’s house who would watch us when the folks were working. I spent a lot of time hanging around there, and this book, which details the humdrum everyday stuff that happens around any cop shop, reminds me of those times when I’d hang out in their kitchen listening to the chatter of the guys in the office and on the radio. So it’s pure nostalgia that gets me to boost this from two stars to three. I make no apologies for that.
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