From a Buick 8
is the strange tale of a mysterious car that serves as a nexus between worlds. At least that's what it is on the surface. The truth is, those aspects of the story are rather uninteresting. Certainly there's potential in the kernel of the idea, but the Buick never seems to manifest any serious threat and the storyline connected to the Buick seems rather flat and lacking in tension. A lot of that has to do with the narrative style of this book. King experiments with multiple perspectives - different narrators bridging the gap between two eras as the men and women of Troop D in Pennsylvania help young Ned Wilcox come to terms with the death of his trooper father using the mysterious vehicle as...well, a vehicle. I was not a huge fan of the structural choices in this novel. First person accounts of the mysterious happenings in Shed B, which houses the Buick 8, remove any dramatic tension from the story because you know the characters survive whatever experience they're relating. You know a priori that these people aren't in any real danger and so the various manifestations of threat emanating from the Buick seem more like curiosities than monstrosities. King knew that to be the case, which is why he relies on the reader's sense of curiosity to drive them through the story. In fact, he says so explicitly several times, making Curt Wilcox and his son Ned avatars for the reader who can't help but want answers to very strange questions regarding everything Buick related. "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back." Only it doesn't really, does it? The novel's theme is predicated on the idea that in real life, you're not entitled to all the answers to all the questions you have and that the path of indulging your curiosity never leads to anything remotely close to satisfaction. This is an artful dodge narratively speaking because it allows King to avoid giving the reader any answers at all about the Buick, but you can't argue with its truthiness.
As always, King writes amazingly realistic dialogue full of one line witticisms that are heartrending, hilarious and pithy. I don't know how the man does it so consistently. He's a regular galaxy of everyman proverbs. Whatever you may think of his plotting as a "popular author" (eye-roll), you can't deny the sheer genius and wisdom that flow from the tip of this man's pen on such a regular basis. I wonder if they're little bits of wisdom he's collected and latched on to in his wide travels and long life or things that he comes up with in the shower while rubbing the shampoo out of his eyes. Whatever it is, it's astonishing and an author with a tenth of the insight this man has into the human condition would count him or herself incredibly lucky.
What shines her are the interpersonal connections and portrayal of family. There were certainly themes of causality more than just hinted at, but never realized in quite the astonishing way I expected given the build-up throughout. Certainly it doesn't show the polish of some of King's other more celebrated novels. The afterword is fantastic, so be sure to stick around for it. A small window into King's creative mind and a recounting of the genesis of this particular tale.