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My Year of King, #15: Pet Sematary

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Considering the many, many scary things Stephen King has written about, you wouldn't think a story
about an old Indian burial ground that causes things buried there to come back to life would be his most disturbing book. But boy, howdy! Pennywise the Clown and the Man in Black have NOTHING on poor little Gage Creed turning into a bloodthirsty killer toddler.

OK, that last sentence almost makes it sound like a joke, but Pet Sematary is probably King's most disturbing book. When the Creeds moved to rural Maine, they chose a house on a logging road. Most of the time, the road was quiet. But when the trucks come through, they are flying at speeds that are dangerous to anyone who has the bad luck to be in the road. Louis Creed and his family discover this the hard way when their daughter's beloved cat is killed. Louis's friend and long-time area resident Jud takes Louis and the dead cat to the Pet Sematary, where local children have been burying their pets for decades. But Jud doesn't stop in the main cemetery-he continues past it to an old Indian burial ground where things that are buried don't stay dead. Sure enough, the cat comes back, but it is definitely NOT the same as it was when it went into the ground. Louis vows never to use the burial ground again-until his three-year-old son Gage is hit by a truck. But if the cat came back different, what will the burial ground do to a person?

This book is so dark that King didn't even want it published. It was inspired by his family's experiences living in Orono, Maine for a year while King taught a class at the University of Maine, during which his daughter's cat was killed, and his son had a close call with a truck on the road. His wife and his good friend Peter Straub, with whom he wrote The Talisman and Black House, agreed with him that it was too dark for publication, but up against a deadline to complete his contract with Doubleday he turned it in, and it became one of his most popular books. I'm not sure what that says about us as readers-it is so bleak, and there is really no happy ending or moment of redemption.

I guess I must be one of those readers who like it bleak, because I loved this book when I first read it in high school, and I enjoyed it again rereading it now. I remember how much I loved Jud's character and the sweet relationship he has with his wife. He is definitely the moral foundation of the book, and yet he is the one who sets up the situation that leads to so much grief and horror.  I remember the movie version of this book not being great, though there is that scene where Gage takes the scalpel to Jud's Achilles that is just chilling. This story definitely demonstrates its tagline: Sometimes dead is better.

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