Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Time, change, and the King

Last Saturday, I indulged my semi-annual desire to read Stephen King by sitting in our front room and reading Christine (1983)*, barely moving as the autumn day swept by, ever darker. Reading King is in a lot of ways the closest I can get to feeling like I’m back in high school, as if I have all the time in the world and there’s nothing better I can do with it than immerse myself in his world and watch the pages fly by.

Back then, I was reading to be scared. And while King at his best can definitely still scare me, I usually find myself more interested in the way he connects our fears to everyday life, and the way that he relies on a well-realized background of ordinary life to simultaneously ground his horrors and throw them into sharper relief. The premise of Christine--evil spirit possesses a teenager through an indestructible ’58 Plymouth Fury—is among his most ridiculous, but it works, primarily because the larger story (and the real fear that underlies it) is about the way that adolescence wreaks havoc with what we oh-so-temporarily thought was a settled world. The narrator realizes that he’s losing his best friend to the car—and its supernatural powers—but it’s impossible for an adult reader not to also see the loss as an allegory for any of the changes that tear friendships apart, from relationships to religion to, looming largest in this case, addiction. (Yet at the same time, one thing that I admire about King is that he never surrenders to his allegory, never lets it detract from the actual horror he’s trying to put across. Sure, the automotive possession in this case may be an allegory for addiction, but it’ll still smear you across the pavement if you don’t watch out.)

Is there any other point in our lives where we’re simultaneously so future-oriented and so unable to look beyond the present moment as in high school? We know we’ll eventually be leaving all this behind, yet at the same time we can’t imagine life without these friends, these trappings, our selves as they are right this minute. And, as someone who seems to never have forgotten what it was like to live through high school, King gets it. He describes high school in Christine as a very conservative place underneath the surface glitz, with most high school students, deep down, being “about as funky as a bunch of Republican bankers at a church social.” He writes:
What's now is forever--ask any Republican banker and he'll tell you that's just the way the world ought to run.

High school kids and Republican bankers . . . when you're little you take it for granted that everything changes constantly. When you're a grown-up, you take it for granted that things are going to change no matter how much you try to maintain the status quo (even Republican bankers know that--they may not like it, but they know it.) It's only when you're a teenager that you talk about change constantly and believe in your heart that it never really happens.
Christine was marvelously exciting; I blew through the last fifty pages of it with barely a blink. But what I’ll remember from it is that passage, that reminder of just what it was like to live that often-unrecognized high school contradiction.

All of which is a long preamble to a notice that tomorrow marks five years since I started this blog. Growing up, we get used to measuring out life in four-year chunks: get through high school to go to college, get through college to . . . and then the four-year chunks stop. The easily sliced-up and labeled chunks of any kind stop. The years pile up—pleasantly, but with a sometimes disturbing quiet and rapidity, too.

So occasionally it’s good to be reminded that once upon a time, four years seemed like an eternity, five years nigh unfathomable. For any of you who’ve been reading this blog that long, please accept my thanks. Newer readers have my thanks as well. If I’ve drawn you to a book or two you’ve enjoyed, then I’ve not been wasting my time.


  1. congratulations on a great blog Levi
    ive been reading daily for about a year and a half now - ive bought some of the books you've written about, although i have to confess, a dance to the music of time is a bridge too far
    i look forward to the next five years

  2. This is a lovely post and you write a wonderful blog. You've introduced me to a number of new authors, perhaps most importantly Donald Westlake - where had he been all my life? I look forward to many new introductions.