A Regular Robert Deadford
Hodder and Staughton, 1983
ISBN: 0450 056740
Welcome to 2012, cublings! Hopefully you are all recovered from any time spent with relations over Christmas and New Year (or any other holiday you might have had forced upon you), and your new years resolutions are listed on your fridge getting frantically ignored. I thought that I’d kick off the book club this year by writing about one of my old favourites, Christine, by Stephen King.
I know that my taste runs to the schlocky end of the spectrum. I’ve embraced that. So, it stands to reason that I should like this book. I mean, you can tell from the first lines on the blurby bit on the back of this book that it’s going to be a treat for the low brow, it goes something like ‘Christine was burrowing into his brain, his subconcience…’ Brilliant, right? I mean, it sounds like the by-line to a Hammer horror or something about brain-parasites or body snatchers. Maybe it’s somehow significant that it is dedicated to George Romero, the director of many brilliant (and Godawful) horror films, not the least the movie Creepshow. Before you ask, no, I’ve never seen the film version of Christine, I’m a bit loathe to, but as usual, willing to take a well placed hint if anyone out there thinks it’s a bit special (or a bit septic, I’m open to either option – having watched The Pillow Book recently, I need something that will blot some of the amount of times I have now seen Ewan McGregor’s…er…zones… out of my head.)
To get to the book though! I know that I also like to infuse subtext where possibly none was intended. Like the question that’s been vexing me somewhat as I’ve lolled on the sofa during this past week, indolently reading and drinking tea as the summer rain splashes (again) at the window and the cat mews pathetically to be let back inside is whether or not it’s important that Arnie is like an inverse Carrie. In the scheme of things, probably not. But it’s interesting and when you’ve read as many Stephen King books as I have (as I think I mentioned in the post on Gerald’s Game), you do start seeing the little tics and repetitions in the writer’s work. So, in the character of Arnie Cunningham, you have as stereotypical a loser as you could ever hope to find; ravaged by acne, shy, outcast even in his own family (that’s a big one, something that I like a lot – Arnie’s parent’s are the hyper stereotypical intellectual types, and while Arnie is no slouch in that direction himself, he’s more talented as a mechanic than anything else). There are a lot of similarities between Carrie White and Arnie – aside from the high school-outcast tag, they are both pushing against overbearing mothers. Interestingly from a writing point of view, neither Carrie or Arnie gets to tell their own story, at least not really, but Arnie seems to embrace his power (as given through Christine) a lot more willingly than Carrie does. Carrie embraces hers as an act of revenge, right at the end of the book, and I guess Arnie does too, but he goes to his more slowly, like it’s a choice. Dennis (the narrative voice for most of the book) notes a couple of times where the ‘real’ Arnie comes out, where it seems like Le Bay’s spirit kind of lets him slip under the reins for a moment. As an aside, here is a super-interesting blog post (which has given me an idea for another post which I’ll work out later), which comes from the super-interestingly (and really really King-ily) named blog ‘Ramblings of a Honk Mahfah’.
Now that I’m thinking about it, King uses pity as a device quite frequently in his work. I mean, listen, you’ve got Arnie in Christine, Carrie White (to state the obvious), Dinky Earnshaw (Everything’s Eventual), Trashcan Man (again, most obviously, but I pity Lloyd more, I think, because Trashcan Man was almost preordained to follow Flagg… but let’s this not get into a discussion of The Stand, we’ll be here all week). These are all characters who change with power, but are initially pitiable. Sometimes the power isn’t taken with a full understanding (like Lloyd, and Arnie), sometimes it’s not chosen at all (like Carrie and Dinky). Power is almost always a subtext in horror (huh, sometimes not that sub of a subtext, if you know what I mean, hello The Hellbound Heart, hello Frankenstein), but I think that when it’s done subtley, that is when I enjoy it most. Keep it quiet, this bid for power amongst the characters and the universe that they inhabit and you can really freak the shit out of people.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Steve, or rather, my reading of Steve’s hard work, without a little complaint about the gender junk. There are some really really well written lines and fragmentary moments in this book which describe this underlying tension between the sexes in Christine, such as Arnie’s relationship with Regina (and Dennis’ observations of the adult relationships that he sees, the comparisions between his own parents and Regina and Michael), the way Dennis and Leigh both refuse to gender Christine by calling it a she. I don’t want to paint this complaint up too thickly, but the way that the female is almost demonised in Christine borders on the creepy sometimes. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say misogynistic, but… yeah, it’s not something you wanna think about too much if you like the book. Haha, so don’t think about it! Fiddle de dee, said Scarlett! Sometimes, you can’t help thinking about it though, especially with Leigh Cabot, Arnie’s (human) love interest. She’s the weakest character in the book for me. I don’t know, there are huge parts when Leigh seems the most unreal part of Christine, not the least because she’s impossibly beautiful (apparently without flaw, not even an invented writerly flaw). Actually, she seems like a boring high school fantasy girl; impossibly beautiful, smart (but not too smart), nice, and “without experience, but with enough desire to make up for the lack.” (page 230)
So while I think that Christine has some excellent value – the narrative voice is engaging and well written, the story isn’t totally original but has enough original elements to keep things interesting, and there are some speckles of pure gold as far as character writing goes – it’s not King’s best work. Better than Under the Dome, but not as good as The Stand.