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Review: Stephen King's FROM A BUICK 8

I tried to review Stephen King's From a Buick 8 on Goodreads.com, but found there's no way to do that. But at least I can review it here.

At any rate, I bought this book in the hardcover edition back in the 2000s, but for some reason I was never able to get into it. And then came the Day of the Bedbugs, and I had to get rid of it along with a not-so-small fortune in other books. But in the last few months I borrowed it from the library, couldn't get to it (too many other books), had to return it after putting it on hold, got it from the library, had to return it, got it from the library . . . Still couldn't read it. Finally I got it from the library again and forced myself to start reading and keep reading -- and when I got to page 35, I was no longer forcing myself to read it. Instead, I was completely hooked, and remained so to the end of the novel, which I finished last night. I had zoomed through it in just a few days (I do have a life, you know, and had to get other things done, too, but once they were done it was back to From a Buick 8 again).

Stephen King is known for his horror novels and stories. And there is horror in this novel -- but it is also one of the best -- and best written -- science fiction stories I've ever read. It is also a novel of suspense, and an extremely good one, at that. This novel was published when King had matured a good deal as a writer, and is more thoughtful and detailed, with outstanding development of his characters as the richly complex characters with interesting histories and lives of their own that actual people are. And as I read, I wasn't just reading it; I was experiencing it, as if I had somehow slipped and fallen into it, and it had become a part of my own life.

Within the chronology of the novel, which moves between 1979 and 2006, as told by several people, including the Sergeant Commanding of the Philadelphia State Police base in the fictional town of Statler, Philadelphia; Shirley, a dispatcher working there; and several of the lower-ranking Troops. Chronologically, it begins with a strange man dressed in a long black trenchcloak and a large black hat that make it virtually impossible to see what he really looks like. He drives the eponymous Buick into the Jenny station at the intersection of SR32 and the Humboldt Road, which was eventually closed. But at that time it starred brilliantly as the place where all the horror and the weirdness began.

The Buick pulls up to one of the two gas pumps at the Jenny station. A boy barely out of high school, Bradley Roach, who is tending the station because his boss is at the dentist's, gets up to look at the new arrival. The midnight-blue car, in mint condition, was gorgeous -- but right away Bradley knew there was something wrong with it, something just off enough that Bradley couldn't tell what it was. And then the driver gets out. Bradley, thinking the man wanted to use the station's bathroom, tells the man, "Bathroom door's open, mister . . . how much of this jetfuel you want?"

"Fill 'er up," says the customer, speaking in a voice which sounds, in Bradley's own words, as if the man is talking through a mouthful of jelly. Brad asks the man if he wants the oil checked. By this time the man has reached the corner of the station, and Brad assumes he strongly needs to use the bathroom. Brad asks him if he wants the oil checked, and the man replies, "Oil's fine!" At this point, though, the man pauses, and turns toward Bradley a little, just enough for Bradley to make out a pallid, almost waxy piece of cheek, a dark, almond-shaped eye with no discernible white in it, and a curl of land black hair falling beside one oddly made ear the sight of which makes Bradley think the man had been in a fire. And the man turned and was gone around the corner in a swirl of dark cloth. And that was the last of the man that anyone sees.

Ultimately Brad calls the local Troopers, who come out and impound the car, which they slowly find is one weird piece of machinery. They see it as a Buick 8-cylinder Roadmaster -- or think they do, at any rate. Soon they begin thinking that maybe it's something else entirely, something that the human eyes and brain can't really register, and finally translate into a beautiful antique car in order to be able to see and grasp it as something understandable, something their minds can handle.

They park the thing in Shed B near their barracks, from whence it never emerges again. And from then on the weirdness increases exponentially.

The lightshows begin, blindingly bright eruptions of light they can only look at through very dark glasses and welders' glasses, and even then their eyes often hurt for hours afterwards. The temperature in the shed drops precipitately even on hot summer days just before the lightshows begin, the temperature often dropping down into the 40s even when it's 90 or 100 degrees outside. And things begin to emerge from the Roadmaster. Always the lid of the trunk goes up just before that, and then they find such things as a big bat with one all-black eye, a large fishlike thing with wriggling red wormlike things where its head should, huge numbers of ordinary-looking beetles, a lily-like plantoid whatsit with gauzy petals of a white that is somehow sickening to look at, the sight of which, in one Trooper's words, is closely analogous to hearing fingernails being dragged down a blackboard close up. And once, something that could be an analog of a human being from whatever universe these things come from, with a trunk-like thing covered with and infested with black eyes coming out of its chest, its off-yellowish skin thin and delicate and easily, shredded by the Troop's dog, who dies as a result of the injuries it receives as it attacks the weird, loudly screaming being. And all these visitors from some other part of the multiverse are either DOA or dying soon after coming into our universe -- except that in the case of the man-thing, the point is moot, because it dies under the shovels and posthole-digger and other implements of destruction the Troopers there at the time grab to attack the thing themselves.

As astrobiologists Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee explain in their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Earthly life, and even complex life in general, is apt to be thin on the ground in our universe. How much more so is it likely to be in the multiverse at large? Stephen King got it just right: this novel should be required reading in all classes on astrobiology. Not mention on creative writing, American literature, and related studies. A wonderful book. I just wonder why it took me so long to read it.

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