Book Review: Christine

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I was getting ready to be a grown-up, and I saw that somehow–saw it for sure, for the first time in that lovely but somehow ancient spill of golden light flooding down an alleyway between a bowling alley and a roast beef joint. And I think I understood then that what really scares people about growing up is that you stop trying on the life-mask and start trying on another one. If being a kid is about learning how to live,  then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.

Christine, by Stephen King

When reading Stephen King, I like to focus on elements other than the horror. For one thing, I find it difficult to be scared by a book – disgust I feel easily, but fear, not so much. It probably also has to do with the setting that I usually read in. I generally read a chapter or two at a time, if that, since I mostly read on the train or while waiting for the bus. This makes it difficult for tension to mount as it would if I devoured the book in a single night.

Christine is the story of Arnie Cunningham, an unpopular high school student, who inexplicably purchases a beat-up car, the titular Christine. In typical Stephen King fashion, the car is more than what it seems…and you can guess the rest. The plot of the novel, while fairly predictable if you’re familiar with Stephen King (and, really, who isn’t?), was enjoyable. What I’d like to discuss, though, is King’s depiction of women in the novel. This is a point I discussed in my review of The Stand, the first of King’s books that I read.

The main female characters in the novel are Leigh Cabot, Arnie’s girlfriend; Regina Cunningham, Arnie’s overbearing mother; and Christine herself. To be honest, I found the characterization of Christine far more complex than that of Leigh or Regina. Leigh is a typically bland blonde heroine, who exists more as a plot device to fuel Arnie’s maturation than as a character. She is sweet, kind, cheerful, and forgettable. King offers Arnie’s mother, Regina, a bit more depth. Early in the novel, Regina’s strictness with Arnie is somewhat explained as a byproduct of her own dysfunctional childhood. However, this is not revisited and like Leigh, I found Regina to exist more for the sake of the plot. I didn’t find either character memorable or relatable.

What I most enjoyed about the novel was Christine and her relationship with Arnie. I found it humorous and clever how King exaggerates the stereotypical teenage boy’s romance with their first car into something much more obsessive and even sexual. Christine’s jealousy over Arnie’s relationships with other people, whether romantic or platonic, is equivalent to the so-called crazy ex-girlfriend’s antics, while her protection of Arnie is equivalent to that of the overprotective mother’s. There’s also a lot of sexual language used around Christine in the novel, with Dennis going so far as to call her an “old whore”. It made me rethink our common practice of referring to cars as “she” – personifying things does give them a certain power.

YES OR NO?: YES. I enjoyed Christine more than my previous King picks. I found the story relatable and relatively interesting, although fairly predictable. I wish I’d read this before The Stand, as it would serve as a great introduction to King’s novels.

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