Christine is Stephen King’s chilling tale of possession and obsession, dealing with a 1958 Plymouth Fury, bought from a stranger’s front yard whilst in dilapidated condition by high school student Arnie Cunningham, who aims to restore the car to its former state of glory.
Arnie sets to work immediately on fixing-up Christine, but it soon becomes apparent that his project is taking a toll on his albeit limited relationships with those around him. It seems in his unique owner-relationship with Christine the car potentially offers him that which he finds lacking in his life, though it is not clear how, and soon he too undergoes a transformation similar to that of the car with which he has become obsessed.
There’s a saying that the things we own end up owning us (more referring to products owned through debt and the spurious cycle of working to repay them) but in the case of Christine, this really is the case.
And so the more Arnie restores her, the more corrupted he becomes; from a shy loser, to a brash and arrogant individual, now laced with a dose of the heavily cynical. The more time goes on and it seems that he is the one possessed by the car, and not the other way around. His appearance changes in parallel with the car also, to the point that when a new popular girl transfers to his high school, he is soon dating her, much to the shock of his peers. But it quickly becomes clear that Christine doesn’t want to share Arnie’s affections with anyone.
H.P. Lovecraft had a saying regarding the writing of horror, and that was that a horror should never be stated when it can be suggested. The sense of dread conveyed by King in this book seems to have come from such a school of thought, as the novel really does ooze and emanate such a passive but successful terror induction method. This is clear from the characters’ reactions to Christine, not just Arnie’s but his friends too, as well as our own.
What really is great about this book is that, by all accounts, it shouldn’t really work. Haunted, demonic car? I don’t think so. But work it does, and so very well. There’s a reason King’s books sell, and the writing in Christine is evidence to this.
I joked to a friend that Christine could’ve been about a haunted book, model boat, or any arbitrary object of affection, and King still could’ve pulled it off. But I guess that the thing that makes the subject so strong in this iteration, is the un-spoken acknowledgement of how close a man can get to his motor vehicle. It can represent his pride, his means to his livelihood, and speak volumes for his character. Not to mention it’s a perfect literary mirror of his personality in the layers of wax lovingly applied to its paintwork, even when the relationship isn’t as ominous as it is in this novel.
Again, it’s those unwritten suggestions, or in this case bedrock, that really do bolster the macabre elements of this very enjoyable, often thrilling, as well as chilling, read. Whilst John Carpenter’s 1982 movie does a decent job of adapting King’s book, I’d say if you’ve seen the movie, still definitely check out the words-based original. You won’t regret it.