‘Pet Semetary’ by Stephen King

The Horrifying Nature of Death

Stephen King is known as the king of horror for a reason. His books stand the test of time, and whether it be a terrifying killer clown or a deadly viral outbreak, King’s novels have a way of worming their way into your subconscious and finding a place to nest, laying eggs of horror that rattle around your brain. Pet Semetary is one of King’s classics and it’s easy to see why.

King himself confessed he was unable to finish this story at one point, given the toe-curling subject material. And that subject is death. Pet Semetary dabbles in our relationship with death and it does so by mixing that in with grief, sanity and the idea of resurrection. Or, more specifically, resurrecting one’s pet. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here!

For those unaware of this book, the story (like many of King’s stories) is set in a small town in Maine. A young doctor called Louis Creed has just sunk most of his money into buying a new house for the family. Alongside his wife Rachel, daughter Ellie and son Gage, they’ve also brought along their pet cat, Church, for the ride. This is a very different walk of life compared to the hustle and bustle of Chicago they’re more accustomed to, but everyone gets settled in all the same.

Louis quickly befriends his elderly neighbour, Jud Crandall (a’yuh) who shows him the “Pet Semetary”, a place where generations of children have buried their pets. However, there’s another burial ground behind that which holds a dark secret, something Louis is warned against. As one could morbidly say, curiosity kills the cat.

To give much more away would be a disservice to this story but in many ways, Pet Semetary’s horror does not lie with its jump scares or crazy twists. Instead, the true horror comes from the characters and how they think and feel about death. Every single character has a different stance on the matter, from curious Ellie asking about heaven or Rachel’s defiance to never speak on the matter, this exploration – across a slow burn 465 page length – is partly why the book works so well.

In typical King fashion, the prose is well written and mostly takes place from Louis’ perspective. With that aforementioned slow burn, when the moments of horror do show up, sparingly across the first 2/3rds of the novel I may add, they hit all the harder. There’s one sentence involving Gage that will catch up completely off-guard while the pair are flying a kite. Another time, Louis awakens from a bad dream to something horrifying occurring, in a paragraph that will stick with this reviewer for a long time.

Toward the end of the book this narrow perspective does expand, with individual chapters depicting Rachel and Jud’s journey. Each of these players are well defined and incredibly fleshed out and deep. The dialogue flows beautifully and whether it be Louis and Rachel’s spicy fight over whether to talk to their daughter about death or Jud and Louis’ lazy nights on the porch with a bottle of beer, every conversation has been deliberately placed to either develop the characters or link back to that earlier theme of death.

In many ways, Pet Semetary plays out as a character study of how grief and trauma can change people. Louis starts off a rational and level-headed man but over time, he starts to change. His beliefs soften, he meddles in matters he probably shouldn’t and by the end he’s a shadow of the man he once was.

This is ultimately a cautionary tale about the dangers of tackling grief, how death can change people and, more importantly, how different people deal with this in very different ways. Louis, Jud and Rachel are three of the best examples of this, with the latter grappling some dark secrets from her childhood that have left her scarred for life. The conclusion to all of this is suitably twisted and deliciously dark, leaving on a very telling note that will have you thinking about this one long after you put the book down.

Pet Semetary is not King’s scariest book but in many ways it is the most disturbing. It’s a tough book to read at times and most certainly a slow burn. However, if you stick with this one, you’ll be rewarded with one heck of a story to chew over.


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