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King‘s X: The Master of Horror Bows out with From a Buick 8

Nancy Sundstrom - October 10th, 2002
Each new book from Stephen King tends to become something of an event, especially for his considerable legion of fans. His latest, “From a Buick 8“ seems to be generating even more buzz the usual, much of it centered around the fact that King has announced that this will be his swan song - the last novel he will ever write.
While the prolific horror meister himself says this decision is irrevocable, most of the rest of the world remains skeptical, including peers like Peter Straub, a favorite King collaborator. “It might well be his last book,“ he stated recently, “until the end of the year.“ Still, others close to King suggest that we take his pronouncement seriously.
If it does shake out to be King’s last novel, it certainly won’t be the end of his involvement with a wide array of other writing projects, a list that includes a three-hour remake of “Carrie“ for NBC, and more installments in “The Dark Towers“ series, just to name a couple.
The irony hasn’t been lost that he completed “From a Buick 8“ just two months before being seriously injured in a car accident where a drunk driver hit him as he was walking down a road near his home. He almost lost his life, and suffered sever injuries that continue to plague him. The new book even begins with Pennsylvania state trooper Curt Wilcox being killed by a drunk driver, an eerie coincidence that he addresses in an afterward, and one which, all on its own, even seems like the premise for a King story .
With its focus on an evil car, a teenage boy grappling with the choices and responsibilities that come with adulthood, and life’s sometimes random vulnerabilities and fragilities, “From a Buick 8“ is highly reminiscent of “Christine,“ his 1983 book. The similarities end there, though, and if anything, this has more in common with “The Green Mile“ serial, with its policemen reflecting back on strange, unexplainable events that took place years before.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but this book is far superior to “Christine“ in terms of character development, pacing, and general story structure. For all the pulpiness of King’s work, he has evolved into a first-rate storyteller capable of plumbing serious emotional depths. In that sense, it would be unfortunate to have him retire from writing novels when he seems to have reached an exciting new stage of accomplishment in his career.
But back to “From a Buick 8.“
It is 2001, and the state policemen of Troop D in rural Pennsylvania have been keeping a secret for more than 20 years. In a shed out back of their barracks, there is a 1954 mint-quality Buick Roadmaster that has been lodged there since a fateful night in 1979, when Officers Ennis Rafferty and Curtis Wilcox retrieved the abandoned car from a nearby gas station. It seems the owner just vanished, and hours later, so does Rafferty, which is just the beginning of a chain of creepy events that will be linked to the car, which possesses an astonishing array of sinister powers.
As the years pass, Wilcox and his fellow troopers become connected to the Buick in ways they could never have imagined. When Curtis is killed in a tragic car accident, his 18-year-old son Ned starts coming by the barracks, doing errands and trying to deal with the loss of his father. As he becomes “adopted“ by the troopers, he discovers the secret they’ve been harboring, and like his father, he becomes determined to solve the mystery.
King sets the stage with the voice of one of the several narrators who share tales of the car’s mysterious powers:

“Curt Wilcox‘s boy came around the barracks a lot the year after his father died, I mean a lot, but nobody ever told him get out the way or asked him what in hail he was doing there again. We understood what he was doing: trying to hold onto the memory of his father. Cops know a lot about the psychology of grief; most of us know more about it than we want to.
That was Ned Wilcox‘s senior year at Statler High. He must have quit off the football team; when it came time for choosing, he picked D Troop instead. Hard to imagine a kid doing that, choosing unpaid choring over all those Friday night games and Saturday night parties, but that‘s what he did. I don‘t think any of us talked to him about that choice, but we respected him for it. He had decided the time had come to put the games away, that‘s all. Grown men are frequently incapable of making such decisions; Ned made his at an age when he still couldn‘t buy a legal drink. Or a legal pack of smokes, for that matter. I think his Dad would have been proud. Know it, actually.
Given how much the boy was around, I suppose it was inevitable he‘d see what was out in Shed B, and ask someone what it was and what it was doing there. I was the one he was most likely to ask, because I‘d been his father‘s closest friend. Closest one that was still a Trooper, at least. I think maybe I wanted it to happen. Kill or cure, the oldtimers used to say. Give that curious cat a serious dose of satisfaction.
What happened to Curtis Wilcox was simple. A veteran county drunk, one Curt himself knew well and had arrested six or eight times, took his life...Curt was parked on the tarmac of the abandoned Jenny station at the intersection of Pennsylvania State Road 32 and the Humboldt Road -- the very place, in other words, where that damned old Buick Roadmaster showed up in our part of the known universe all those years ago. You can call that a coincidence if you want to, but I‘m a cop and don‘t believe in coincidences, only chains of event which grow longer and ever more fragile until either bad luck or plain old human mean-heartedness breaks them.“

There is much to relish in this chiller, and while it may not pack the punch of a “Delores Claiborne“ or “Hearts From Atlantis,“ this is a mature, compelling read with enough gross-out scares and hair-raising plot twists to keep everyone happily turning pages until the ending, which ties everything together. In King’s world, which he sees as belonging to the collective “us,“ life is a series of Buick 8‘s that are out there waiting to blindside, confuse, and obsess us. How it all turns out depends on what we do behind the wheel.

 
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