Stephen King


"From A Buick 8"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 31, 2002)

"People can get used to just about anything."

This has been a frustrating reading month for me. Between jury duty, my sister's wedding, family birthdays, and whatever, it seems that my reading time has been nonexistent. I found myself lugging From a Buick 8 everywhere, just hoping that someone would order me to go sit in a room by myself and read for the next few hours. (Don't believe the judge when he says there will be downtime and to bring a book.) At one point I realize (panic) that this might be the only book I get to read all month, and if that's the case, shouldn't I have picked a "better" one. So then I begin to wonder why is it that I (and lots others) feel a need to apologize for wanting to read Stephen King? Why can't I just read for the pleasure (uh, horror) of it? But before I have time to put more thought into this, I've finally managed to sneak in a few hours and by now I'm thinking about how long it has been since I've read one of King's novels, and, how much I've missed them. I used to read his novels regularly. Not every one, but at least half of them. So, yeah, this is turning out to be vintage Stephen King. My interest goes beyond curiosity about this '54 Buick 8 ("...sort of a '54. When you got right down to it, it wasn't a 1954 at all. Or a Buick. Or even a car...") that's sitting out in Shed B, which can static up the radio and mess with the television set, throw "lightquakes" and, well...

Read excerptThe tarp-covered Buick 8 parked in shed B with a large thermometer hanging above it is a "family" secret that the Pennsylvania State Police in Troop D have kept amongst themselves for nearly twenty years and through at least two generations of troopers. They impounded the car after it was abandoned at a gas pump when its driver walked off to use the men's room answering the gas jockey's question with the words "Oil's fine" and then never returns. The gas jockey kept waiting and waiting and finally checks the men's room and then starts to think that the man slipped down the river bank out back and is now in the river. Seeing a dark object afloat in the water, he calls the police. The State Troopers take the call because they are located only two miles from the gas station.

One of the two officers to arrive at the gas station is a rookie named Curtis Wilcox. Because he's alone with the car awaiting the tow truck, he's the first to notice that things don't add up to this actually being a Buick 8, despite its apparent pristine condition. Then after it is towed to the barracks, closer inspection shows that it isn't even in the realm of an automobile, that is, it has all the things to make it a car and for the most part all in the right places, but the engine isn't hooked together the way that it should be and nothing sticks to the car, not even a pebble in the tire tread. Despite what the gas jockey says he saw this car theoretically couldn't have been driven. Instinctively and at once, the members of Troop D know they need to keep the Buick a secret from John Q and even their wives.

And now Ned Wilcox, who has been hanging around the barracks ever since his father was killed by a drunk driver the previous year, has just looked into the windows of Shed B for the first time. He was washing the barrack's windows and before dumping the bucket of water between the sheds, he decides to wash those windows too. He tells Sergeant Commanding Sandy Dearborn, that at first he sees just a lump and then "the tarp slid off the car while I was washing the windows! Like it wanted me to see it, or something! Now is that weird or is that weird?" And like anyone with an appreciation for an old car in cherry condition, he wants to take a closer look. But Sandy has been living with this car and its oddities for a long time. He notes that the temperature inside the shed is about thirty degrees cooler than the outside temp and says to Ned "not just now." Instead he asks Ned to meet him on the smoker's bench after his shift is over. Sandy's intuition (or is it?) says that he should tell Ned about the Buick 8; because it's something that Curtis would want Ned to know. This story is as much about Curtis Wilcox as it is about the Buick. And Ned clearly is searching for answers about his father's death. Not that there are any real answers when it comes to the Buick, but as they like to say in Troop D, "Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought him back." Besides, by now, a year after his Dad's passing, Ned is as much a part of the troop as anyone and that alone is a good enough reason to share the secret with him. So for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, Sandy and some of the other key people in Troop D take turns to tell what they know about the Buick. King has structured this novel to have one chapter flow into the next and bounces between "Then" and "Now." The "Then" sections tell the story from an omnipresent narrator; the "Now" are each dictated by whosever turn it is to tell Ned his or her part of the story; yet, the overall story and responsibility for having it told is Sandy's.

I'm not going to tell you that this is the best Stephen King novel that I've ever read. It is pretty good, though. It has everything in it that has always made me enjoy his novels. I know that his books are considered to be "horror" novels, but I have a hard time saying that "horror" is the draw. It's more like a study in how people behave when dealing with the unordinary. At one point Sandy explains to Ned that in time they became used to the Buick 8 in the same way as one would a deformity in a family member. Let's add to that analogy, however, that some days are more difficult than others. This novel is the epitome of how King always manages to pull off making the most common things deviate from the norm, but still, even the worst of it somehow so strangely familiar.

So then again, it could be the horror that draws me after all. While reading this novel, it's like I'm remembering all the other ones he's written and I know somehow if I combine everything that's come before, that I'll be able to put my finger on a real definition for this otherworld that he's always hinting at. (Come to think of it, that is much like what Curtis is trying to do with the Buick 8.) So somehow it ends up being oddly comforting in being presented yet again with aspects of this otherworld, one that smells like peppermint and cabbage, but far worse; one that gives birth to bats that aren't bats, fish that aren't fish; one that breathes out things from its world and breathes in things from ours. I am drawn to his descriptions of the indescribable, the way he dances around what it isn't, to hint at what it is. Horror is fascinating, isn't it? "Because stuff gets you, Sandy thought. And because while curiosity is a provable fact, satisfaction is more like a rumor."

There is a bookstore in my town that doesn't bother trying to fit Steven King on any particular genre shelf; they simply have a Stephen King bookshelf, symbolizing that he's his own genre. Some will say that everything he's ever written in some way or another connects to the Dark Towers series. Maybe it does. Maybe it just connects.

But that's the thing about Stephen King's novels; you just have to read them.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 368 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from From a Buick 8 at MostlyFiction.com

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"Everything's Eventual : 14 Dark Tales"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 09, 2002)

“For me, that emotional payoff is what it’s all about. I want you to laugh or cry when you read a story...or do both at the same time. I want your heart, in other words. If you want to learn something, go to school.” -- Stephen King.

Stephen King is one of those writers that, when I think of him away from his books, I shelve in the “He’s ok.” category. I don’t know why...I’ll read anything he writes about the act of writing in a heart beat, because when he writes about writing, he truly reaches me. I nod my head and say, that’s how I feel.

Read excerptPerhaps it's because I'm not a big horror fan...even though I have a good enough imagination to scare myself to death (without any help from any one else) there is a distance to horror, a coldness to the prose that I've always found hard to take. It is as if the writer hopes to spare himself, or herself, so they keep an emotional distance. There is no distance or coldness in these stories, and it makes it all too easy to sink into them, to live and feel for the people inside these pages. So when I began reading this book of fourteen stories, I regretted every lukewarm thought I ever had about the man. His short stories work for me on greater levels...and not all visceral.

True, he has several stories in horror vein, “Autopsy Room Four” is a scary experience starring everyone’s secret fear. “The Little Sister’s of Eluria” gives us an extra chapter in the life of Roland the Last Gunslinger, and gives an interesting new take on vampires. “The Road Virus Heads North” is a favorite, about a painting bought at a yard sale that changes and shows much more than what the buyer wanted. “1408” and “Riding the Bullet” are both classic stories...the first, the haunted hotel room, the second, the hitchhiker being picked up by a dead man. He admits, freely, that both these forms have been explored before, but that everyone who writes suspense needs to explore them. I like and agree with this thought that Every story idea has been written. Authors can kid themselves that they have written something utterly original (I do it myself, all the time.) but it’s not. The variations of words, the take the writer has on the story, those are the things we can hope for originality in. King does an admirable job, his angle on both of these almost suburban folkloric ideas are as interesting as they are horrifying.

The stories I admire most of his are far more literary. “The Man in the Black Suit” is about a young boy’s meeting with the devil...but it is also about how it affected his life, and how believing the devil’s lies can scar you, even if the belief was only for a moment. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” is one of the most evocative titles I have ever come across. It is about a salesman and his preoccupation with collecting the graffiti off interstate bathroom walls. He has decided he can’t stand living anymore, and his desire to get rid of the notebook less someone misconstrues its intent forces him to think about his life. “The Death of Jack Hamilton” is a gangster adventure, and a piece of extremely well done characterization. In a very short amount of words we learn a lot about Dillinger and the people he encounters, and realize why he was so likable. “In The Deathroom” is an uncommon take on the interrogation room story. The title story “Everything’s Eventual” is about a young man, and why every week he throws pocketfuls of change down the sewer, and "L.T’s Theory of Pets" is a bittersweet look at the dissolving of a marriage, and the pets the two bought for each other. Of course, there is a classic King twist to this story, that rather than making it more horrifying, it makes it more sad. In the beginning of the story, we are told that the Ax Man, a serial killer, probably took L.T.’s wife. For some reason, I loved the fact that this was added in, I thought it was just a neat twist. I should have known better...King’s short stories are very clean. There’s purpose to everything.

“Lunch at the Gotham Cafe” could have also gone into the horror section, but the story of a man in the midst of a divorce has more to it. It’s also a bit of an adventure, as well as a look into how we deal with pain. “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What it is in French” is about a sadly married woman who relives the same set of moments over and over, not sure if it’s Deja Vu, or something else. The woman in this story really tore at me, I felt so bad for her. The final story, “Luckey Quarter” is about a hotel chambermaid, and the quarter she finds in the tip envelope. This one, too, is a slice of real life touched by the strange, and the reader is really drawn to Darlene, and her reality.

Another interesting part of this book is that he introduces each story, or, in some cases, writes a brief afterward. He even introduces the table of contents, explaining how he chose the order the stories are in. These introductions are both funny and valuable. His words part the curtain a little, and let the readers see behind the set to the seed that began each story. For a reader, they add a little to the tale, an interesting tidbit that explains the purpose of the story. To a writer, they're amazingly instructive, forcing one to consider their own reasons for the stories they write.

In the quote, King says, “If you want to learn something, go to school.” He’s not being snide...he’s saying that he writes for entertainment, not for scholars. Still, I learned something, or was at least reminded of something I should have known...that sometimes the most powerful stories can be told in a handful of words. Yes, he got my heart...he just better not do anything evil to it before I make him give it back.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 326 reviews

Read a sample short story at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

*1Takes place in Castle Rock, Maine
*2
Takes place in Derry, Maine
*3
Takes place in Little Tall Island, Maine
*P
These two books have one "pinhole" vision into each other The Dark Tower Series Originally written as Richard Bachman Co-written with Peter Straub Non-Fiction: And the Movies created from his books:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

 

Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947. Parts of his childhood were spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where is father's family lived) and in Stratford, Connecticut. His mother moved him and his brother back to Durham, Maine when he was eleven. Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.S. in English and qualified to teach on the high school level. A draft board examination immediately post-graduation found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet, and punctured ear drums.

He met Tabitha Spruce at the Fogler Library at the University of Maine at Orono, where they both worked as students. He and Tabitha married in January of 1971. Stephen made his first short story sale to a mass market men's magazine shortly after his graduation from the University. In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted the novel Carrie for publication. On Mother's Day of that year, Stephen learned from his new editor at Doubleday, Bill Thompson, that a major paperback sale would provide him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

The Kings live in Bangor, Maine and Florida. Tabitha King is also a novelist. The Kings have three children: Naomi Rachel, Joe Hill and Owen Phillip. Stephen is a regular contributor to the American Cancer Society, provides scholarships for local high school students through Hampden Academy and contributes to many other local and national charities.

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