Stephen King – Pet Sematary Book review

Death was a vague idea; the Pet Sematary was real. In the texture of those rude markers were truths which even a child’s hands could feel.

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Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret.

As Halloween is coming closer in child steps, I wanted to revisit one of those horrors that could have easily been prevented by learning to let go.

When a loved one passes on, you don’t cling to the desire to keep him or her near, you allow them the peace and the quiet and the eternal sleep.

In the introduction, Mr. King tells about moving to Pleasantville, teaching at the local school. Him and his wife had a cat named Smucky, their son was running to the road chasing the kite string like in the movie, but unlike the book, he didn’t get killed. It’s always amazing to see pieces of a writer in his or her books as it makes the story more authentic.

KING calls Pet Sematary his scariest book, and I can understand why.

This may be King’s darkest book. If you’re goth, read this and you’ll be 5% goth’er.

  • Vincent Kaprat 🙂

The painful, hard thing about Stephen King’s writing is that so often, he takes something real, something that people can experience in the real world, and builds the supernatural stuff onto that. In The Shining, there’s Jack’s alcoholism; in The Talisman, there’s Jack/Jason’s mother’s cancer; The Stand plays on our fears of something, somewhere, in one of those labs, getting out of control; in Pet Sematary, it’s the death of a child. And what it means for the surviving family.

The story

Things kick off with the Creed family (Louis and Rachel, and their two young kids, Eileen and Gage) arriving at their new home in Maine, after relocating from Chicago. Louis is a doctor who has taken a job with the University of Maine. Their new house is a big and beautiful New England colonial. Its only detriment is its location, right next to a busy road well-traveled by recklessly speeding semi trucks.

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The Creed’s new neighbor is the benignly intrusive Jud Crandall, an old man who steps in to fill the paternal role that Louis missed due to his own father’s premature death. It doesn’t take long for Jud to show Louis some of their new home’s features. Prominent among them is a pet cemetery (the sign reads Pet Sematary). We later learn – again through Jud, who is always there, watching, like Wilson from Home Improvement – that beyond the pet cemetery is a Micmac burial ground. Jud tells Louis that his childhood dog was killed in the road. Jud buried the dog in the Micmac burial ground and it came back to life like a canine Lazarus. It was good as new, except it was mean as hell and smelled like death. Did I mention that the Creeds also have a pet?

Don’t go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to, Doctor. The barrier was not made to be broken. Remember this: there is more power here than you know. It is old and always restless. Remember.

 

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SMUCKY THE CAT, one crate-board marker proclaimed. The hand was childish but careful. HE WAS OBEDIANT.

Pet Sematary is long on setup. It takes its time building to the inevitable consequences of living next to a place that cheats Death. For the first 200 or so pages, not a lot happens, though King generously foreshadows much of what is to follow. At the halfway point, he delivers a shot to the solar plexus with a major twist – followed by two cheap writer’s tricks – all in succession. Starting with this breathless succession, things race straight downhill to the chilling finale.

Cats were the gangsters of the animal world, living outside the law and often dying there. There were a great many of them who never grew old by the fire.

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The twist itself – which hides in plain sight – is King’s crowning achievement. It is not a scene of supernatural horror or apocalyptic fireworks. Instead, it is an immensely powerful evocation of realistic grief – so strong – and it feels raw – especially after someone dear passed on.

More than most authors, Stephen King has always worked at both the textual and subtextual level. He places a premium on his stories, to be sure, but always gives over space to meditate on his themes

King is a natural storyteller. Everything he writes seems to have its own propulsion system. This is sometimes marred by his propensity towards cultural spew. King is a pop cultural maven, and he tends to strew the ephemera of that culture throughout his stories. His novels are oft populated by characters who think and speak in various sound bites: snatches of musical lyrics; jingles from commercials; one-liners from films.

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“It’s probably wrong to believe there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls-as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything. And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity. That such events have their own Rube Goldberg absurdity goes almost without saying. At some point, it all starts to become rather funny. That may be the point at which sanity begins either to save itself or to buckle and break down; that point at which one’s sense of humor begins to reassert itself.”

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Faith is a great thing, and really religious people would like us to believe that faith and knowing are the same thing, but I don’t believe that myself. Because there are too many different ideas on the subject. What we know is this: When we die, one of two things happens. Either our souls and thoughts somehow survive the experience of dying or they don’t. If they do, that opens up every possibility you could think of. If they don’t, it’s just blotto. The end.

The story is gruesome, because anyone with an ounce of imagination can put themselves in that situation, imagine the horrible choice: do I try this and possibly get my son back or possibly create a monster, or do I pass this chance by and never find out whether it could have worked?

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“Sometimes, dead is bettah” – Jud Crandall

So what’s the lesson learned?

That lesson suggests that in the end, we can only find peace in our human lives by accepting the will of the universe.

King connections:

When telling Louis about the town and state, Jud Crandall mentions a dog that went rabid downstate three years prior, killing four people. That dog being, of course, Cujo!

The towns of Haven (The Tommyknockers), Jerusalem’s Lot (‘Jerusalem’s Lot,’ ‘Salem’s Lot), and Derry (IT, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher, ‘Fair Extension’) are mentioned, as well as the Penobscot river, which plays an important role in IT.

Louis thinks of Church having the ‘swagger of a gunslinger’ . . . a tenuous connection to the Dark Tower, but a connection all the same.

The process of fetal resorption is mentioned twice, telling me the ground for The Dark Half was already being tilled in King’s mind, albeit perhaps not on a conscious level.

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