(From A Buick 8)
I feel like From A Buick 8 is one of those King books that gets overlooked entirely or just isn’t much liked. And that sort of makes sense — after all, didn’t he already write the evil car story with Christine? And if that wasn’t enough for you, you could always go read the short story “Trucks”, which was the source for Maximum Overdrive.
But From A Buick 8 isn’t much like either of those. The story makes it clear from the beginning that the Buick 8 is not actually a Buick 8, or actually a car at all. It may not even really look like a car as much as it manifests as a car — because the people who see it have to see it as something, so why not a car?
I really see this particular story as being more connected to King’s tower with various levels than it is similar to any previous “haunted machine” stories. Because it’s more or less a portal, and it doesn’t open on a door to, say, Roland Deschain’s world, where a person from a level of the tower we’d recognize can survive. Instead, it opens on a world that looks like madness to us, and to where whatever they breathe might choke us to death. And vice versa.
But to whatever extent it’s about that, it’s even more about grief, and loss, and the kind of existential crisis you experience when you realize that some of the answers to the big questions are just inaccessible to you — and that those answers may not even exist, or maybe don’t matter anyway, even if they do. Like, maybe the answer to whatever’s bugging you most is, “that’s random, lol.” What do you do with that?!? Nothing, I guess… watch and wait for it to develop a crack in the windshield and eventually fall apart. This book is like putting the question of “why do bad things happen to good people?” into the physical form of a car. You’ll just never know why, or what the mechanism is by which those things happen, or… anything at all, really. Good luck with all that.
Honestly, the book isn’t even particularly subtle about the issue it’s exploring. That’s fine — King is not an author I really expect subtlety from on this kind of thing. Not that I think he isn’t perfectly capable of it, but I don’t think he’s writing books that are meant to feel like homework, either. He might feel like exploring why the Big Questions have no answers/unsatisfactory answers, why the answers might not even matter, and why you might find yourself creating more trouble for yourself by poking around trying to find those answers. And that can all be very existential, abstract thought. But he’s going to tell you right up front that’s what he’s doing, and he’ll make it as accessible for you as possible. I’ve heard the guys at the Kingslingers podcast refer to him as “the people’s writer”, and I think that’s a fair description. This is not a writer who believes that Big Ideas or Important Thoughts or even Existential Crises are off-limits to the common man, and he’s not going to cloak them in language that’s inaccessible to the common man. He wants anyone who can pick up the book and read it (or listen to the audiobook or whatever, read how you want) to get it.
I actually really like this. I feel like I’ve experienced thinking about and feeling at least some of the unanswerable questions, and as a person who is explicitly an atheist (so no “higher power” to attribute anything to) I’ve definitely come to the conclusion that the answers to some questions are either inaccessible or about as meaningful as a random number generator. And that’s… not comfortable, at least not at first. But you adjust to it. So a story that tackles that in a fun way is neat.
I feel like, while it may be difficult to make an adaptation that really captures all of that existential stuff (I’m sure it’s doable, but quite a lot of movies based on King works are really bad at capturing the underlying themes and concepts he explores, so I don’t automatically expect that) it at least should be possible to make a movie of From A Buick 8 that captures the actual story. It would even be a good one to use some fancy special effects stuff on. So why isn’t there an adaptation yet? I don’t know, but there isn’t. There was one that stalled in 2009 and apparently died there, and one that was announced in 2019 that’s apparently still being talked about and people are being attached to it, but who knows? I would like to see a good one, though — I feel like this one is one that might be fun to watch even if it’s more “portal from another dimension that looks like car” than “existential crisis about unanswered questions”. Just get the weirdness of the car and the other-ness of the stuff that comes through it right, and you’re golden. The actors probably don’t even matter much (I mean, assuming they can act, but there’s no one here that really needs to be played by a big name. Maybe making the old guy who leaves the car at the station in the first place a recognizable actor would be fun, but you would need him for like a minute of screentime or less.) Getting the car and the stuff that comes out of it right is more important. I’d watch it.