Monday, February 8, 2016
Yes, King made this book a period piece, just after spending four stories in the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's in Different Seasons. I'm guessing in this case it was so that a car from the 50's would only be twenty years old, not nearing 30, because there's no way anyone would try to sell a car that old. I didn't realize this was a period piece the first time I read it, because I didn't check the publication date and assumed this was another book from the 70's, but nope, it's from 1983.
This book is one of those that a lot of people think they know about but I'm betting not many have read. John Carpenter made this into a movie the same year the book was released (whaat?) and stuck to the story pretty faithfully, and apparently it was something of a hit. Opinions on this one are sharply divided among CR's; some will tell you that it was great, others will tell you it sucked. I'm on the "good, but far from great" side of that argument. Could it stand a remake? I think so.
The plot concerns a young outcast teenager named Arnie Cunningham (why are nerds always named something like Arnie or Ronald or Delbert or some other name that paints a target on them?) who just happens to be best friends with a popular jock. Now, I confess I didn't see a lot of realism here. Arnold and Dennis are portrayed as closer than brothers, and they make no attempt at school to distance themselves from each other, yet Dennis is popular and Arnie is an outsider. The reason for their friendship is that they grew up together, becoming friends back when popularity didn't matter.
Real life has always gone somewhat differently. One of two things would happen. One; Arnie and Dennis would simply grow apart as their peer groups worked to separate them. It would be gradual, neither one would really be at fault and eventually they would stop being aware of each other. The other possibility is that Arnie would be semi-accepted into popular society, even as a sort of "mascot" due to his friendship with Dennis. He still would be mocked, but in a more jocular fashion and would learn to give as good as he got. He still wouldn't get dates, but he'd be allowed at the parties. He might be made water boy of the football team. His skill with cars would be recognized and appreciated. But he'd still be only on the fringe of acceptance, his place among his peers contingent on his friendship with Dennis.
The first is the most likely. The second is probably how I'd like to see him portrayed in a future film.
Arnie is short, skinny, bespectacled and pimply. He's not strong, not handsome thanks to his complexion and while he is smart, he doesn't have any one particular course of study he excels at, other than fix cars, which isn't considered an academic pursuit, so really, he's got no peer group to be part of. His parents are worse. Both are college professors and while his father is somewhat reasonable, he's also completely under the thumb of his domineering wife, who wants to control every aspect of Arnie's life.
This part I could really resonate with. Without going into too much detail, I know what it's like to have parents that have no intention of letting go or letting you find out who you are on your own. I know about parents who, when they discover their son has a will, decide the best thing to do is break that will. Dennis, who narrates the first and last thirds of the book, even points out that Arnie's parents have no idea, nor would they care, that their micromanaging of his life is one of the reasons Arnie turned out the way he did.
For the most part, Arnie has let his parents control him, let the school kids turn him into their whipping boy and let the world keep him on the sidelines. But that all changes the day he sees Christine for the first time.
Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury. When he first sees her, she's sitting disconsolately in her owner's yard, falling apart, and he buys her no questions asked. Dennis, who gets bad vibes from the car (and owner) right away, tries to talk Arnie out of it, but Arnie's in love.
From there it's a rather repetitive story of people in Arnie's life objecting to the car and his owning it, all of them getting the same bad vibes Dennis got. Everyone but Arnie himself, who dedicates himself to building her back up to brand new, and in the process, seems to change as a person himself.
He gets more confident, his complexion clears up and he even gains the gumption to ask out the prettiest girl in the school, who neither knows nor cares about Arnie's prior reputation. And before you ask, yes, she's creeped out by the car, too.
Carpenter's film version cleans a lot of this up; repeated scenes of people suggesting that maybe Arnie's a little too into his car, Arnie getting upset at them, showing more and more signs of changing and not necessarily for the better, all of that being condensed into a fairly tight two-hour film. And really, the book is much longer than it needs to be. It's over 500 pages, and I feel like there's less story here than there was in The Body, which is just over a fifth its length.
The two lead characters are what sell this. No, not even the car. The friendship and what it's put through in this book are what kept me reading. Arnie is a very relatable character, as is Dennis, even though my own High School career was closer to Arnie's. The horror concerning what's happening to Arnie was bittersweet for me because I loved the scenes where Arnie developed a backbone and told off the people who had, up until now, made his life miserable. But then it becomes obvious that it's not really him...
I'm about to get a little spoileriffic, so I apologize. Skip two paragraphs ahead. The book never really makes clear what's going on with Christine. She obviously has a will of her own and feels possessive of Arnie, trying to turn away his friends (or turn him away from them) and avenge him against his enemies. Meanwhile Arnie seems to be acting more and more like Roland LeBay, the man who owned her previously, who, according to his brother, was a real piece of work. Arnie starts using his phraseology and having his "the world is against me" attitude. At first it feels like Christine is haunted by LeBay's ghost, but it's implied to be more than that. LeBay is part of Christine now, but she had a will of her own before LeBay bought her. Now she's hoping to possess Arnie the way she possessed LeBay. The movie also takes this turn, showing Christine being manufactured and killing a man before she's even off the assembly line.
Several years after I read this the first time, I read Hearts in Atlantis, a mosaic novel made up of four novellas and a short story, and the first story, Low Men in Yellow Coats, has strong ties to The Dark Tower, introducing some of the servants of the Crimson King; the titular Low Men, who wear long yellow trench coats and drive large, loud muscle cars. The novel From a Buick 8 focuses on one of those cars and how it behaves once it becomes separated from its driver. Ever since reading those books, I wondered if Christine herself might not be a Low Man's car that went rogue. Unlike the movie, the book never talks about her on the assembly line, but the idea that this car was born evil really makes me want to tie her to the Low Men, even just to have it end with Christine crushed in a compactor, and have a man in a long yellow rain coat walk up to her and murmur "What
did they do to you, baby?" while caressing her. Think about it; she's an old muscle car from the 50's, there's something that sets her apart even from her fellow make/models ('58 Furies did not come in red and white), is obviously sentient and self-repairing. I know it's cheesy, but as I'm trying to create a SKCU, I see no reason not to do this. Someone told me that trying to connect all the stories together makes the universe seem smaller, and while I can see where he's coming from, I guess my thinking is this is the whole point; connecting it all.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is my choice for writer/director on this one. What made me choose him was the fact that he made a winning film centering around three teenagers and their dysfunctional issues but he also does horror. And choosing him is about to make me look like a huge Glee Fan.
I'll admit, I did watch Glee during its first couple of seasons, mainly because I like music and singing, but it really grated on me after a bit, particularly how it stopped appreciating the music of yesteryear and focused on modern pop songs, which I hate, and, well, if I have to go into all the reasons why Glee sucks, we'll be here all day.
But I do like the cast, or some of them, and one of Glee's cast members is going to star in this film.
Blake Jenner is playing Dennis Guilder, the narrator of the beginning and end and really, the main character. Or at least as main a character as Arnie. Jenner is a handsome, muscular young actor who is easily believable as a jock, but also easily believable as the nicest of nice guys.
Paul Leiberstein, and yes, I know he's not really an actor, but neither was Phyllis Smith, who last year starred in one of the biggest movies of the year. That said, I eventually hit upon an actor that I think it's a real shame he doesn't get more work. His name is Marcus Giamatti, and he is the older brother of a much more famous actor. Marcus, like his brother, is the master of the "hang-dog" look, but he's much taller and seems like a pretty stereotypical dad. So he's my Michael Cunningham.
Uncle Otto's Truck, Pet Sematary, Cycle of the Werewolf, Gramma, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut, The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, Beachworld, The Talisman, Thinner, Dolan's Cadillac and Morning Deliveries stand between this read and the next Beam holding this blog up. I know at least one of my readers is wanting to get some of the biggies read before I get to them, so I am putting this up to show just how much I have to get through before I get to It. Most are short stories or novellas, but The Talisman is a very long novel, and Pet Sematary is nothing to sneeze at, so it will be a while before I get to It. Which I'm very excited to get to.
I'd say most of those stories aren't getting adaptations of their own, but I can say for sure which one I'm doing next.
Up Next: Pet Sematary!