A Car, A Mystery, A Dark Legacy

Author: Stephen King

An odd man brings an old car into a gas station, asks for a fill-up, and disappears. The car sits there with a new tank of gas and no owner until the members of Troop D from the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Western Pennsylvania arrive to impound it. What they discover is unutterable, horrible, beautiful, and inexplicable, all in one. A mystery that will keep on taking for decades.

The car – a beautiful Buick 8 – isn’t quite right. It’s a near perfect mimic of a car, but there is no way it could run. The steering wheel is too big, the engine wrong, the portholes not a true Buick design. It’s as if someone designed a car who had never seen one, getting the look mostly right, but failing to make it functional. And the car – it won’t hold dirt; it stays as pristine as if it had just driven off the assembly line. It heals itself. And sometimes it talks to you, whispers to you. Then the lightening shows begin, and strange things come out of the trunk and, sometimes, things and people near the car disappear. Whatever this thing is, it’s no Buick. Instead, it is a deadly mystery, perhaps a gateway to somewhere else, a sleeping monster that occasionally awakens, sometimes taking things in, sometimes exhaling otherworldly things that cannot live in our atmosphere.

The Buick – and keeping what it is secret – becomes an all-consuming task for the Troop. Curtis Wilcox, then a newbie, becomes obsessed and spends most of his career trying to find an answer: what is this thing, where is it from, what does it do, what does it want? Forty years later, after having analyzed the Buick and kept its dark secrets, he dies horribly by the roadside. Now, Curtis’ son, Ned, has come to the Troop and has picked up his father’s obsession, not just for the Buick, but for answers. Where did the Buick come from? What is it? Why did his father die?

From a Buick 8 is a slower book. Sure, there are moments of fright, supernatural monsters and cars that will eat you, but it is so much more. For some people, this is off-putting. For me, this thoughtful approach made From a Buick 8 one of my all-time favorite books.

From a Buick 8 is all told as a retrospective, the Troop sharing memories with Ned and, as they do so, wisdom. They talk about what they have learned over the years and how, one by one, life has taught them lessons. How they have grown from the energy and demands of youth to the softer, sadder knowledge of mature adults.  The mysterious car is a catalyst for the conversation and the ultimate enigma that, through its existence, shows that sometimes there simply are no answers. As the boss of the group, Sandy tells the story of Curtis’ curiosity and the various bizarre things the Buick did; Sandy also unravels a story of people with their own hopes and dreams, living and dying with this weird car, a malignant chrome faced monster, in the background. Sometimes its implied that the Buick acts, that it creates events so it can call people to its trunk, so it can take them no one knows where, but sometimes it’s just a story of people and life, of the good and the bad, of the worries and aspirations of youth and the sadness and acceptance of growing older. Sometimes the Buick is a monster, sometimes a metaphor.

Image by Hoagy Peterman from Pixabay

That’s what I love so much about this book. The Buick, by itself, is a bombshell story, weird and wonderful and spooky in the way that only King can create. We get enough glimpses that, in the end, we can make a pretty good guess about what the Buick might be and where the things it sucks in go. There is even a little bit of a point about how we kill what we fear, whether that is right, but the Buick is still grade A monster, evil to its Fireball core, and yet unique and as charming as a siren calling us out to sea.

The other part of the novel – the life and observation part – is even better. There are so many poignant moments and unforgettable sentences, so many transcendent observations, some bitter and others simply wise. The way King captures and puts them on the page expertly unravels how we ourselves feel. Something we always knew but just couldn’t put into words. It’s for this reason that I recently re-read From a Buick 8 (rereading being a complete rarity for me), and why I will continue to read it again and again. For both the imagination and the insight. For the way it captures emotions and relationships with the backdrop of a gateway into another world and a stylish pair of fat, luxy whitewalls.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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