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Saturday, May 4, 2013

What Writers Can Learn From "From a Buick 8"

Spoiler alert: Don't read this if you are planning to read "From a Buick 8" for the first time.


I love Stephen King. He is undoubtedly my favorite writer of all time, and that puts him ahead of even Asimov, Heinlein, Rand, and Tom Robbins, all of whom were big influences on me. Even then, there are probably a few novels of his that I haven't read yet. He's just so prolific.

In fact, King has probably prevented me from reading other authors. I have a bad habit of falling back on books I've already read, from time to time, instead of reading something new. I have Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson in hardback, still untouched. For some reason, I picked up "From a Buick 8", which I'm now reading for the third time.

But unlike many other stories, I'm reading this one because it confuses and befuddles me. It is definitely my least favorite King novel. Why? There doesn't seem to be any resolution to the story. While "Duma Key" seemed to be a rehash of "Rose Madder", and "Lisey's Story" was apparently so forgettable that I can't recall a single detail from it, "From a Buick 8" stands out as the most disappointing work of his that I have read.

I've heard it referred to by some as a "Post 9/11" novel. Some things just don't make sense. You can even find support for this in the text itself.

But I don't want post-modernist writing, I want a story with a resolution. Even the connections to The Gunslinger series are vague and tenuous, at best. To put it another way, there's no "there" there.

And yet...

The story is solid. The writing itself is, of course, impeccable.

I've taken the unpopular stance of late that writing should be about ideas, or that stories should be told in a fresh and exciting manner. If you can do both at the same time, better yet.

"Buick" is interesting throughout. The story is well-told. I, like many others, was just unhappy with the resolution. There are lots of true-isms, good character development, all the little things you expect from a good writer. I would be thrilled to achieve this level of mastery. But the book leaves you wanting more, and not necessarily in a good way. Sadly, a resolution will never be forthcoming.

Perhaps it's intentional. It's an oft-discussed novel for that reason. Looking for meaning in the bigger picture that the story presents, however, leaves me just as clueless as when I started reading it.

There's still a lot for writers to take away from reading it. As I've said, it's well written, with lots of smaller points to be made. As a study of the craft of writing, it's as valid as any of King's novels. To me, it fails at the end by offering no real explanation for anything that's transpired.

I guess it can be considered a success in that I'm now reading it for the third time. How many novels can you say that about? Combine the strengths of King's storytelling with a satisfying ending, and you'd have the makings of a great book. You can find writing lessons in unlikely places, I guess.