Dusted Off: Pet Sematary

Books Reviews Stephen King
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Dusted Off: Pet Sematary

Worse things waiting

By the time Pet Sematary was published in 1983, a mythology had grown around it. Rumors among King’s fans suggested that the book was too frightening to publish, the sort of death-saturated manuscript you had to read wearing rubber gloves.

There was some truth to this. When a cat belonging to his daughter was killed on the busy truck route in front of his house, King wondered: What would happen if he buried the cat, and three days later it came back, somewhat altered? And what if a child were killed, too, then came back changed (and not for the better). King offered us a sort of grim reworking of W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.”

King’s wife thought the book was nasty, and that the closet might be the best place for it. Weary of dealing with Oz the great and terrible, his metaphor for death, King agreed. That might have ended it, except for a fortuitous circumstance: King was ready to move to another publisher but needed a manuscript to fulfill his contract with Doubleday.

In the novel, Louis Creed, a young doctor, takes a job at the University of Maine In?rmary and moves his wife, daughter and two-year-old son Gage into a house by a busy interstate. The highway soon consumes his daughter’s cat, Church. A neighbor leads Creed past the nearby pet cemetery to a secret burying ground where the dead don’t rest in peace. Creed is a pragmatic doctor who has seen folks die, but no souls depart. His reason and pragmatism—and his sanity—are about to be sorely tested.

Soon, at his son’s funeral, Creed muses, grief-stricken, that sometimes dead is better. But that’s a hard lesson for a parent to learn, and when Creed interferes with the natural order of life and death, fate slams him tenfold with retribution.

Pet Sematary is a novel of mysteries and secrets—secrets that bind men and women, and fathers and sons, then pull them apart and destroy them. And, ?nally, the ultimate mystery: Does this show close forever when the curtain falls? Or are the sets struck and the carnival wended elsewhere?

This is King’s best book and one of the best horror novels ever written. Go back as far as you want: Lovecraft, Stoker, Shelley, it doesn’t matter. This is the top-of-the-line deluxe monster model.

King once wrote that horror writers are afraid to open the door all the way and show the monster’s face. In Pet Sematary King swings it wide. Beyond? The darkness and the dim shape of Oz, the great and terrible, awaits.