Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Synopsis: When Louis Creed & his family move from Chicago 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. The road in front of their home frequently claims the lives of neighborhood pets. Near their house, local children have created a cemetery for the dogs & cats killed by the steady stream of transports on the busy highway. Deeper in the woods lies another graveyard, an ancient Indian burial ground whose sinister properties Louis discovers when the family cat is killed.

My Thoughts: On Mother's Day, at age 10, I went across to my neighbours house to watch a film. My neighbour had a history of corrupting the innocent and girly child that I was, thanks to him I swapped my Cabbage Patch Doll for a skateboard, and my Spice Girls, B*witched and Hanson Cd's for Blink 182, Korn and Frenzel Rhomb. Films though, I don't think I ever watched age appropriate films. I was six or seven when I watched Silence of the Lambs, and Death Becomes Her and The Witches of Eastwick were on repeat when I was about 7 or 8. So my corrupting neighbour couldn't really corrupt my position as a film enthusiast, but he did introduce me to horror with this gem of a film. I loved it, and quickly became a fan, devouring other Stephen King films quickly after before moving on to the typical teen slasher fair and then branching out even further. It wasn't until I was about 14 that I read my first Stephen King book (I failed an attempt to read It at 13, fucking clowns!) and it wasn't until this year that I visited the book that inspired the film that began my journey into the world of horror.

As a 10 year old girl I do remember jumping in fright as I watched the film, but I also remember that fear being rather secondary to my general enjoyment of the film. The fear was much more present as I read through the book, building slowly yet fiercely as I made my way through the story. All that considered there is very little 'horror' for much of the book, instead it is the extremely effective use of ominous foreshadowing and a somewhat brutally stark view on the horror that surrounds the loss of a loved one, particularly the loss of a child.

The loss of a loved one is always difficult, but it produces a different reaction in different people. When Judd loses his wife, he takes it hard but he handles it with strength and silence. When Rachel's sister Zelda died as a 10 year old of spinal meningitis her parents tried to disappear her from their home as quickly as possible, while Rachel was haunted by her memory for decades more. When the Creeds lose their two year old son Gage to a speeding truck on the highway that runs past their house, they break down. Their six year old daughter Ellie stops speaking and carries a picture of her brother with her at all time, Rachel breaks down physically and mentally and Louis is struck perhaps hardest of all, since he was only inches from grabbing his son before the truck came past and he knows a way he can help Gage live again.

The desire to find a way for a lost child to live again isn't unique to Louis, however it is only a character in the hands of King who happens to have an Indian burial ground a quick walk from the backyard. As he considers whether the risk of a resurrected son is worth the risk he faces the questions many parents struggle with when they have a child in a major accident of some kind. What if he can't talk or think for himself? What if he can't smile the way he used to? What if he comes back different? What if he isn't the son they knew? Could they still love him? Sure Louis has the added concern that his son could come back 'touched' by evil, but the real fear is that the Gage that returns won't be the Gage he loved so much.

Perhaps my fear was preempted because I'd seen the film and knew what was coming, but I did find the general atmosphere thick with looming horror. There are several instances where characters experience moments of premonition, hairs sticking up on the back on necks, desires to run far, far away, the return of old nightmares and strange glints in eyes. As the months roll by and the seasons change the characters ignore the signs until they can no longer stop the wheels that are in motion. As it continues to build it finally explodes in 50 odd pages of complete heart-stopping horror that picks you up and throws you against a wall, again and again and again.

Now I know it may seem like I've given away some major spoilers but rest assured everything I've told you can be found either on the cover or within the first couple of chapters. What I've withheld though, are the much smaller though extremely important events that are crucial to the book's finale. I'll leave them for you to discover yourself. This book was a fantastic read and delivered far more than I was expecting. I was sure I'd read a well-crafted novel that terrified my pants off, but I hadn't expected it to have the human element that it did. It was so raw, personal and emotional and it completely broke my heart.

5 out of 5 smooshed toddler heads.