Cujo * Stephen King

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine . . . He was not a werewolf, vampire, ghoul, or unnameable creature from the enchanted forest or snow wastes; he was only a cop . . .

Cujo is a huge Saint Bernard dog, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. Then one day Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolt-hole. Except it isn’t a rabbit warren any more. It is a cave inhabited by rabid bats.

And Cujo falls sick. Very sick…


Cujo slept.

He lay on the verge of grass by the porch, his mangled snout on his forepaws. His dreams were confused, lunatic things. It was dark, and the sky was dark with wheeling red-eyed bats. He leaped at them again and again, and each time he leaped he brought one down, teeth clamped on a leathery, twitching wing. But the bats kept biting his tender face with their sharp little rat-teeth. That was where the pain came from. That was where all the hurt came from. But he would kill them all. He would-

Except the monster never dies. Werewolf, vampire, ghoul, unnamable creature from the wastes. The monster never dies

Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the beloved family pet of the Joe Cambers of Castle Rock, Maine, and the best friend ten-year-old Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo pursues a rabbit into a bolt-hole – a cave inhabited by some very sick bats. What happens to Cujo, and to those unlucky enough to be near him, makes for the most heart-squeezing novel Stephen King has yet written.

Vic Trenton, New York adman obsessed by the struggle to hang on to his one big account, his restive and not entirely faithful wife, Donna, and their four-year-old son, Tad, moved to Castle Rock seeking the peace of rural Maine. But life in this small town – evoked as vividly as a Winesburg or a Spoon River – is not what it seems. As Tad tries bravely to fend off the terror that comes to him at night from his bedroom closet, and as Vic and Donna face their own nightmare of a marriage suddenly on the rocks, there is no way they can know that a monster, infinatly sinister, waits in the daylight, and that the fateful currents of their lives will eddy closer and faster to the horrifying vortex that is Cujo.

Stephen King has never written a book in which readers will turn the pages with such a combination of anticipation and dire apprehension. Doing so, they will experience an absolute master at work.

How did Cujo came to be?

In the Fall of 1977, Stephen King moved to England to write a ghost story. Much like the move to Colorado which resulted in The Shining and The Stand, he was looking for inspiration. “If I wrote about Maine all the time,” he said in an interview, “I’d go crazy.”

Cujo-horror-legends-25727076-1024-768King’s writing suffered in England, and so did his family. He felt flat, cut-off, and uninspired. Their rented house was damp, no one could get warm, and after just three months they cut their year-long stay short and returned home. But while in the UK, King read an article about a kid in Portland, Maine who was killed by a Saint Bernard, which clicked into place with an incident from the previous year in which he’d taken his motorcycle out to the middle of nowhere to get fixed. He managed to get his bike into the driveway of the mechanic’s house before it died. From across the road he heard growling and turned to see a massive Saint Bernard approaching, ready to attack. The dog only stood down when the mechanic strolled out of his barn and smacked it on the haunches with a socket wrench, saying, “Joe must not like you.”

cujo-stillThen King started thinking about the banged up Pinto he and his wife had bought with their $2500 Doubleday advance for Carrie. They were still driving it in the late 70’s, and the car had a sticky needle valve on the carburetor, which meant it kept stalling. King started to wonder, what if the Pinto acted up and his wife was the one who drove it to the mechanic’s in the middle of nowhere? What if she had one of their kids with her? And what if there was no one around to whack the Saint Bernard on the butt with a socket wrench? Even worse, what if the dog were rabid?

Briefly, King toyed with the idea that the mother would get bitten, infected with rabies, and have to fight to keep herself from attacking her son, but around page seventy he discovered that the gestation period for rabies was too long for this idea to work. Nevertheless, he was on fire, and before he knew it he’d churned out the first hundred pages of his new book. Which is mostly famous these days as “the drunk book.”

In King’s On Writing he immortalizes Cujo with, “At the end of my adventures I was drinking a case of sixteen-ounce tallboys a night, and there’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all…I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.” For those who are counting, that’s three gallons of beer a day. What writers drink is often more famous than what they write and this comment has overshadowed Cujo’s virtues, probably forever, which is too bad.

The Great Stephen King Reread: CujoOne hundred pages shorter than The Dead Zone, Firestarter, and Pet Sematary (two hundred pages shorter than Christine) there’s a lot packed into its lean frame. Everyone remembers the broad outline—woman and kid get trapped in their stalled car by a rabid Saint Bernard—but actually re-reading it reveals a very strange struture. Lots of suspense novels have two, or even three, storylines running on parallel tracks, and eventually they all converge. Cujo has three storylines, three separate sets of characters, and none of them have much to do with each other at all.

Taking centerstage is Donna Trenton and her four-year-old son Tad, who drive out to Joe Camber’s house in the sticks to get their Pinto’s faulty needle valve replaced. They arrive at the garage on page 145 (out of 300) so by the time the Pinto jerks to a stop in the driveway we know Donna pretty well. Self-involved, not too smart, she’s passive in a crisis and her entire relationship with Tad consists of apologizing to him after she’s lost her temper. She isn’t a bad person, but you sense her limitations. You want her to be different—stronger, more passionate, patient—but you understand why she isn’t. She is who she is.

Tad, on the other hand, is a tantrum-throwing kid who’s scared of his own shadow. But in a long description of a repetitive parking game he plays with his trucks King reveals that this outwardly pointless activity is, for Tad, a vital coping mechanism because he’s all-too-aware of the unrest in his parents’s marriage. It’s a nice insight from King, who, if he has become anything, has become a great depictor of the inner lives of children. And so, as Donna and Tad march grimly into Cujo’s maw, the reader is all-too-aware of their numerous flaws. The little Pinto will become a crucible that cooks away their impurities, transforming Donna into a proactive warrior too late to save anyone but herself.

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