Pet Sematary was my first encounter with Stephen King, either his books or films. No, I am not living in a cave. No, I do not think horror is evil. I just hadn’t gotten to him until this year. A cousin whose recommendations I trust told me this would be a good one to try out, and I’m very glad I did. I’m already looking ahead at my to-read list, trying to figure out how soon I can make the time to read another.
“Sometimes dead is better....When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son -- and now an idyllic home. As a family, they've got it all...right down to the friendly cat. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth -- more terrifying than death itself...and hideously more powerful.” (synopsis ‘borrowed’ from Goodreads.)
From the first few chapters I was completely and utterly lost in King’s world. A sign of an amazing author is that you forget there is an author. As you read, the writer seems to just disappear, leaving a pure and unadulterated story. King mastered this. The “idyllic” setting this promised was just that. The gorgeous setting he created gripped me before there was even a whiff of mystery and horror. The rustic farmhouse, the wide open field behind it, the path into the woods surrounded by tall grasses, all of it seemed taken straight out of my favorite place in this world – a little corner of the Pacific Northwest my family inhabits. Granted King’s ideal setting has less rain than my real version of it.
But once you venture past the immediate setting you find the dark corners that the plot lives in. Follow the path into the woods and you come to the little “Pet Sematary” that the town’s children have maintained for centuries. A circular little clearing, surrounded by trees, and with a great wall of fallen branches on one side, shutting it off from the rest of the forest – the “deadfall.”
Second to the setting in terms of instant attention-grabbers, was the old man, Louis Creed’s neighbor Jud. I’ve never truly loved a character in a horror story like I loved Jud.
Louis Creed, who had lost his father at three and who had never known a grandfather, never expected to find a father as he entered his middle age, but that was exactly what happened…although he called this man a friend, as a grown man must do when he finds the man who should have been his father relatively late in life.
And this is the role Jud plays throughout the entire novel. Jud was one of those characters that I love so much because they seem to truly live. I was almost as interested in Jud and his piece of the story as I was in the main character, Louis and his family.
I don’t tend to scare easily when I read, and that opens up the entire horror genre for my amusement. I enjoy a little bit of a “creep-out” and I like it when it goes even a little farther than that, maybe because it doesn’t happen too often. Well I got my creep-out, and I closed the book for a few minutes because I could tell it was going to go a lot farther than that if I didn’t break my attention for just moment. Out of the many “terrifying” moments in this book, none of them gave me my desired creep-out like the moment Louis Creed heard Something moving in the woods behind the deadfall. Doesn’t seem like much does it? But King builds an environment of such heavy, palpable tension that it doesn’t take much.
There were moments that made me want to cry, that made me laugh out loud, and that infuriated me. By the final climax, I was so engrossed I ended up staying up until 1 am to finish it. Oh, and the moment that infuriated me? Yes, it was rage at a cheap writing trick I thought King was pulling, but it was uncalled for. Just a page later everything was hunky-dory…or as hunky-dory as a Stephen King novel can be. Reading involves a certain amount of trust. And trying new author, you have no relationship with them and therefore trust is a bit more fragile. But Stephen King earned my trust and respect with this novel, even if I panicked for a moment.
If you’re not a horror person at all, don’t bother. If you’re a horror connoisseur or just trying to find a good book to break into the genre this is definitely a good one to try. But never forget,
The soil of a man's heart is stonier…A man grows what he can, and he tends it. 'Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own... always comes home to you.
I look forward to my next Stephen King book with great excitement, but I’m a little worried none of them will hit me as well as this one did. The rustic setting and gritty characters were exactly right for me. Any recommendations of what to try next?