Tuesday, June 20, 2017

From a Buick 8 (2002) by Stephen King

From a Buick 8 (2002) by Stephen King: King's closest foray into what people now call the New Weird. Sort of. From a Buick 8 is as the very least a foray into the cosmic in which the horror elements are reined in, making Cosmic Mystery rather than Cosmic Terror the order of the day.

Circumstances leave Pennsylvania State Troop D with a bizarre automobile stored in a shed. It was left at a gas station by a creepy looking fellow. Its design is just enough off-normal to make it disturbing. And a quick check of its engine -- or its dashboard -- reveals that it shouldn't be able to run. Stamped on the engine block are the words 'Buick 8,' though the troopers will come over the years to call it a Buick Roadmaster. And on its first day in storage back in 1979, a veteran officer disappears off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.

Stylistically, this is one of King's great achievements. Several first-person narrators (with one primary narrator) tell the story of the Buick Roadmaster over the course of one long night in 2001. The narrative voices are separate and distinct, and the rhythms of the telling approximate the stops and starts of oral storytelling. They're telling a ghost story around a campfire, but there's no fire and the ghost is real -- and not something as simple as a ghost.

There are a number of effective horror scenes scattered throughout the narrative, mostly rooted in Fear of the Unknown. In many ways, From a Buick 8 is a lengthy riff on H.P. Lovecraft's seminal "The Colour Out of Space." But this time it's a car -- a car whose paint colour doesn't seem quite right to any of those who look at it.

King avoids the third-act problems of many of his more science-fictiony novels here by avoiding any final explanation for the presence and purpose of the Buick Roadmaster. Where Under the Dome or The Tommyknockers sputtered out at the end with disappointing explanations, From a Buick 8 roars off into the silence, unexplained and unknowable. Highly recommended.

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