The Creeds move from Chicago to rural Maine, their new life appears to be absolutely idyllic, perhaps even too good to be true. They have it all: physician husband, beautiful and loving wife, engaging daughter and adorable son (right down to the pet cat). Their neighbor is friendly and they have a great yard for the kids to play in. Unfortunately, there are truths hidden in the woods that should never be revealed. And the problem with the truth is that it rarely stays hidden. In this case, the woods hide one of the most powerful (and most difficult to resist) forces imaginable.
Spoilers abound. Skip to the last paragraph if you haven’t read the book.
Pet Sematary was the first novel that Stephen King wrote that he “shelved”, the subject matter is that disturbing and intense. It is certainly not his most horrific work, but it deals with what many people fear the most: the loss of a loved one (in this case, the loss of a child). I recently reread it for The Stephen King Project and I’m extremely grateful I knew what to expect. It is heartbreaking to read the accident and then Louis’ daydream that it didn’t happen (it is the ultimate “What could (should) have been?”). The story was inspired from King’s own time teaching at the University of Maine, when he and his family rented a house on a busy street. The busy street caused the demise of many pets and his son Owen had a close call.
What makes this novel so scary (horrific? disturbing?) is the fears it plays on. To lose a child is one of the most horrible things a parent can imagine and possibly the hardest to overcome. But what if you could bring your child back? What if it came with disturbing consequences? I think many of us would risk anything, myself included. There are spoilers, so stop here if you don’t want to know.
Louis knows what the cemetery behind his house is capable of. He’s already experimented with life and death in order to bring the family’s cat back (after an unfortunate encounter with a truck). Louis buried Church in the cemetery, only to have him return to life the next day. Only…he’s a little different, “a little dead” if he’s being honest with himself. He knows he’ll never use the cemetery again, or so he says. When Gage dies tragically, he tells himself to leave well enough alone. But he keeps leaving little opportunities for himself, like not sealing the coffin, that allow him to keep the possibility (and the hope) of return. While reading this book the first time, I spent the entire time mentally yelling at Louis not to do it. Just please DON’T DO IT! This time, I knew what agony he must be facing. That little voice inside your head insisting that this time will be different. I still wanted him to stop, but I know exactly why he didn’t.
I consider Pet Sematary one of Stephen King’s most serious works. It is possibly the King novel that scares me the most, perhaps because it deals with a reality we all face: death. It asks the reader to think of what you would do in that situation. Would you let your child go if you know there was even a chance that he could live? I don’t think I could, I would have to know. Unfortunately, Louis felt the same way – to dire consquences.
I would absolutely recommend Pet Sematary, it’s both disturbing and stunning. The writing, though dark, is superb and this is a novel I would consider “classic King”. If you’re a Stephen King fan and you haven’t yet read Pet Sematary, do it! You won’t regret it, however, like many of Stephen King’s works – don’t expect a happy ending. Bottom line: 5/5 for King fans.