Fiction Affliction #1: A review of Stephen King’s 1983 meditation on death, despair, and the heavy cost for refusing to let sleeping dogs (and cats) lie.
Realtor: Hi, yes, Dr. Creed? Oh, I have the perfect house for you and your family.
Dr. Creed: I can’t wait to see it. My wife and two young kids, whom I’m dragging from their lifelong home in Chicago to Bangor, Maine for some reason, can’t wait to move.
Realtor: Well, firstly, and I just want to get this out of the way, it’s located right by a super busy road where giant trucks driven by idiots who don’t pay attention come rumbling by at 100 mph every minute of every day, all day and all night. There’s no fence or barrier by the road, so it would be really, really dangerous if you happened to have a kid who’s highly mobile and not old enough to recognize the danger of crossing the street yet. Is that okay with you?
Dr. Creed: Absolutely. I am a doctor.
Realtor: Also, and I just want to throw this minor little thing out there. But there’s a pet cemetary behind the house.
Dr. Creed: Oh, that’s interesting.
Realtor: Yes, many of the pets killed by those trucks over the years are buried there.
Dr. Creed: Well, I’ve been meaning to finally talk to my daughter about the facts of death, so this will be a good conversation starter.
Realtor: Great! Let’s schedule a showing for tomorrow!
This is the inaugural piece in a new series that I’m tentatively calling Fiction Affliction. This series will be mostly devoted to book reviews. But I’ll also be including screenplays, short stories, and basically anything EXCEPT TV shows and movies. There are enough people out there talking about stuff in the frame rate medium. I’m more interested in the written word. The boring black and white.
I’m also a novelist myself, having self-published two books, with more on the way. Fiction Affliction is my way of learning and reflecting on various novels and other written works I’ve read, and sharing them with everyone else. All wrapped in an informal, humorous, and always brutally honest style with a touch of irreverence. I’m trying to focus on stuff that’s either lesser known or niche, or if it’s by a popular author, something that’s not one of their marquee works. Pretty much everything by King is popular, obviously. Especially these days, when Hollywood is instantly making everything he writes into a movie. They even made a movie off a story he wrote about evil grass. The Maine man truly is the Main Man. You’ve got a better chance avoiding getting hacked to pieces by Jason Voorhees while you’re in the middle of having sex than not seeing some obscure King work get made into a series or feature film.
Pet Semetary was always a back burner King book for me. Over the years I’ve read pretty much all of his classics. The Shining. The Stand. Carrie. The Dead Zone. Salem’s Lot. I even read Insomnia, a forgotten door stop about some guy who somehow develops super powers because he can’t sleep. I still haven’t read IT, though I’ve tried twice. Clowns don’t scare me, and King is especially rambly in that one.
But Pet Semetary. That’s more like a cult classic of King’s. It’s not his best, though I’ve often seen on Reddit threads people mention it as their favorite. I can see why. It’s his purest meditation on death. The story has a cozy and intimate feeling notwithstanding. It’s like being slowly strangled by a warm, fuzzy blanket. There are some passages that are not only great in a literary sense, but also scary as hell. The chapter where Louis’s daugher Ellie comes to him and asks him about death, for example. And how that interaction triggers his wife Rachel to remember her horrifying ordeal with her dying sister Zelda.
The whole Zelda sequence could have almost been a seperate novel in and of itself. This was King in his prime. Back when he was a cocaine-fueled boozing maniac pounding away at the typewriter in the basement, and everyone was afraid he was going to finally go nuts and hack his family to pieces.
Man, I miss that guy. He used to riff off little stories within his stories like the way a carnival barker raffles off tickets to some ungodly (and unsafe) amusement park ride. You think of the numerous stories telling the history of the teleportation equipment in his short The Jaunt. That’s a story that should get reviewed on here at some point.
King used to be encyclopediac. His books used to be little labyrinthes packed to the gills with all kinds of frightening shit.
Now King is just another Twitter tweeting avatar.
Which reminds me. Fuck Twitter. Not only is it a morphine drip distraction, but I hate how it has sucked in so many great writers into its event horizon. I think social media has a way of watering down good writing, and reducing otherwise solid writers to time-wasting clout-chasers. How many good books have been lost, their creative energy transformed into worthless tweets? You hear that giant sucking sound? That’s the sound of Twitter sucking all the brain cells out through everyone’s ear holes.
Anyway, back to Pet Semetary. A novel about a doctor named Dr. Louis Creed who moves his family from the Land of Deep Dish Pizza to Bangor, Maine in order to take a job at a local university as the school physician. He moves into a nice house in the country, which happens to be right alongside the most dangeorous road in the universe. Where giant trucks come lumbering along regularly, killing pets and other wildlife. But those trucks are nothing compared to the creepy AF pet cemetary tucked behind his house down a trail. But even that’s small potatoes compared to the ancient Indian burial ground that’s located behind the pet cemetary. Man, if this doctor prescribes drugs as well as he picks houses, he’ll have you taking shots of hydrochloric acid for the common cold.
I am a slow reader. I like taking my time. Or as I like to call it, my eyes prefer a tantric experience with the ink and paper. But I have to say, Pet Semetary really slowed me down. The book is like wading through molasses wearing cement shoes. And I think that’s because it’s a deceptively heavy book. It’s all about death and despair. It’s unrelentingly sad. It’s an existential crisis hiding within the trappings of mass market horror. There’s a subtle nihilism that creeps through. Digging deeper, it’s not only about death. It’s about the fact that after death there really is nothing. Just a void. And to try to cheat that — to bring something or someone back — is just fooling yourself. The hardest part about losing someone isn’t just that they’re gone. It’s that you’re never going to see them again. That there is no happy afterlife where we’ll see each other. It’s as if King is saying the scariest part of life isn’t anything supernatural or otherwordly. It’s the simple fact that when the light goes out, that’s it. And all you can do is accept it.
Pet Semetary is a gut punch. It’s a middle finger to the religious minded confident in their inevitable Laz-E-Boy recliner cloud awaiting them in the sky post their final raspy breath. It’s about denial and the consequences of refusing to accept reality. It’s also a metaphor for psychological trauma, as seen in the Zelda story. Of the inability to get past some tragedy or loss.
This book hurts to read. Because you’ll find yourself thinking about loved ones you lost. It’s a smart choice to explore the concept via the death of Ellie’s cat Winston Churchill, or Church. Everyone’s lost a pet at some point. I found myself thinking of my beloved Himalayan ragdoll Napoleon Cataparte. A cat who who was there for me my last year in high school, my first few years in college, and then my entry into the real world. Napoleon was a regal feline with a strong personality. He was a boss. I loved that cat. When he got on in years, we were fortunate to find a home for him with a nice older lady who only adopted Himalayan cats. He passed away peacefully one evening, perched atop his lounge by the window. A king on his throne to the end. Long live Napoleon.
Structurally, Pet Semetary is kinda wonky. The first act takes up almost the first half of the book. The second act is basically the event and aftermath of Gage’s (Creed’s two-year old son) death. And then the third act is told in one pulse-pounding one-night sequence where the doctor goes to dig up the corpse of his son and rebury him in the Indian burial ground so the toddler can be reanimated. The whole sequence is written like a heist.
Which makes me wonder…have the Ocean’s 11 writers ever considered putting a horror element in their franchise? Like instead of robbing just another boring bank or casino, they have to rob an Egyptian pyramid, or a South American crypt? And George Clooney gets killed by a mummy or something?
Pet Semetary is deeply morbid, depressing, soul-crushing stuff. It’s one of those novels that goes there. What else can be said about a book that features a two-year old getting run over by a semi-truck in grisly detail. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
There’s also one hell of a stinger at the very end.
I recommend Pet Semetary, but only if you’ve got a cast iron mind. Reading it is like swallowing a razor blade.
3 thoughts on “Pet Semetary (Or, That Creepy Ancient Indian Burial Ground BEHIND the Pet Semetary)”
I like your idea for Ocean’s 11. Would kick it up a few notch’s and add some much needed spice to the genre. Thinner is one of my favorite Stephen King books. Pet Cemetery honed right in on the soul-searing grief process and the consumptive desire to have one’s loved ones back. Too bad it didn’t work out as envisioned.
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Yes, King is a brilliant writer, but not the best outliner. Pet Semetary had a long build-up, only for it to have a rushed-feeling ending. Still, it was Prime Coke-Fueled King, which is the best King, by far.
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I did not know he was on anything when he wrote. I just thought it was early King.
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