Book Report: Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983)

I inherited the Book Club Edition of Pet Sematary from my aunt. Or I bought it for a buck or change at a forgotten garage sale, but that would be meaningless, so I think of my aunt when I read my Stephen King novels now, regardless of the actual origin.

As one of the first of King’s prolific bursts, this book fits into that time period. That is, he build suspense and dread, but ultimately the end rushes through the climax and leaves one with the obvious lingering evil still out there. In what I’ve seen from this era (see also Christine), the victory over evil is very tenuous and it’s apparent that it will eventually catch up with the survivors of the story.

So let me continue with the beginning…. or at least the plot. Dr. Louis Creed moves his family from the Midwest to small town Maine where he’s going to run a university infirmary. In the front of the house, there’s a two lane highway used often by oil tankers. In the back woods, a burial place for pets. The family has a cat. You can see where this is going. I, owner of an aging cat whom I know won’t lie upon my lap while I read Stephen King books forever, dreaded reading this book, and I was going to put it off indefinitely until I decided to denancy my self and just push through the death of the cat and the horrors beyond. I did. At least the death of the cat and so on where handled off page fairly well.

Come to think of it, King leaves most of the gory wetwork off the page in this particular volume. We don’t get a lot of flesh peeling from the muscle, tendon, and bones kind of thing going on, but we do get the idea that it’s going to happen, and we put the book down thinking we’ve gotten a pretty gory dose of it, but textually, there’s not much there there. That’s what makes King so powerful; he builds the dread and he makes you think you’re getting gore, but it’s your own imagination splattering blood on the wallpaper.

Another thing that makes King powerful, and what draws his readers into the books, is that he doesn’t play favorites with his characters. Most writers rely on series for their long-term fiscal viability, and with every series one or more characters run through the plot in little danger. Sure, they get shot and sometimes almost die, and sometimes a major or minor character dies in a Very Special Episode. But the reader can proceed page-to-page with the comfort that the main characters will be tested and will prove true. King can spend pages making us like one or more characters in a book right before they die suddenly. The reader has to pay attention because although four main characters walk into a scene, four main characters are not guaranteed to walk out of the scene. In every moment, King’s characters risk life and limb from dark forces outside of their control. King takes this aspect of life and amps it up to make clear the tenuous hold we each have on our lives. Overall, the effect works.

Ergo, even though I didn’t care for the ending, I appreciated that the book achieved its goals in manipulating my emotions. Did I like it? Well, it was effective, and I enjoyed the writing. I’ll read more King, of course. Because I enjoy the works and, quite frankly, because my aunt (and the garage sales of past days) have left me with quite a few remaining on my bookshelves.

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