Pet Sematary is a profoundly dark and twisted tale that deals with the repercussions of wanting to live forever, and the sacrifices that comes with it.
A lot is going on in this book, but in the Stephen King books that I’ve read thus far, that appears to be a good thing. Needful Things had several stories branching in different directions, and that all fit together neatly in the end.
I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Stephen King’s books since starting. I either find them to be amazing or incredibly dated. Like Carrie, Pet Sematary enters into the realms of dark magic, so I wasn’t sure how it would hold up. Fortunately, there’s nothing to worry about here.
Pet Sematary is divided into three sections, each sharing a momentous chapter in the Creed’s new life in Ludlow Maine.
The first section introduces the family to their new surrounding area, along with the Pet Cemetery situated in the forest behind them.
The second section deals with a loss in the family and how they cope emotionally afterwards.
In the final section, the decisions to this point are confronted and reflected upon. Louis is now in a position to learn from his mistakes… but that doesn’t mean that he will.
Straight from the get-go, King moves his new family, the Creed’s, into the countryside of Ludlow, Maine (yes, the same Maine from all his other books). The father, Louis, has just landed a new job as the University Head Medic and is taking his wife Rachel, and young children Ellie and Gage with him.
The only nearby house is across the busy road that passes through the lands. Its occupants; elderly couple Jud and Norma.
Things take a turn for the worse when Ellie’s cat is run over.
Seeing the distress on Louis’ face, Jud introduces him to the ancient Indian burial grounds beyond the back of the forest. It’s also homed to a pet cemetery, where local children have been burying their pets for years. The difference with the burial grounds though, whoever is buried there comes back to life, just not as their true selves.
I won’t go into any spoilers here, but from this point in the book, the plot begins to pick up speed and your waiting for that one inciting incident to kick the whole horror process into motion.
Although this is a horror, it does delve into more magical / fantasy-based storytelling. The Indian Burial grounds have a unique quality to them, almost as if once you have visited them, you’ll always be drawn back for one circumstance or another.
I’ve found that King often incorporates this style of writing in his books. He brings up the imposing dangers and then lets them sit just below the surface, building suspense along the way.
Overall though, the book isn’t scary per se; creepy maybe, but not edge of your seat jump at your own shadow scary.
However, his storytelling is clean, and the characters are incredibly well-written.
The action is intense, and the depictions of death are nauseating; especially true for the introduction of Victor Pascow.
Inspiration for the novel came in 1979 when his daughter’s cat was run over outside their home. King said he took the cat to a pet cemetery after explaining the situation to his daughter. She was angry that ‘God had taken her cat. Why couldn’t he get his own?’ He even went as far as inserting this moment into the book. That then led to the whole idea of a magical burial ground.
Looking at the characters, I found myself especially drawn to Jud. Despite his initial eerie persona, I quickly warmed to him as being somebody who cared very much for the people around him, including his wife.
It also plays on the notion of the older wise-man role that many of us have come across in our lives. Whether this is a friendly neighbour, elderly relative or a friend of the family. We enjoy spending time with them and listening to their stories of yesteryear.
Ranking amongst Others
Pet Sematary is an excellent book and would rank as my favourite King novel thus far.
It has excellent character development, a great sense of suspense while incorporating those mythical elements to a grounded reality.
Nevertheless, this is a Stephen King book, and there are times when it feels a little drawn out and descriptive. When Louis enters the cemetery in the final section is particularly long-winded.
Despite these little qualms, they’re to be expected by now, and it, fortunately, doesn’t take away from the whole experience.
‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go!’
There are a lot of references to the Ramones in this book, with the band returning the favour by writing a song, ‘Pet Sematary’ for the original film’s score. Ironically, this became one of their best-selling songs.
Obviously, death plays a significant role in Pet Sematary.
Whether that’s the nightmares of already losing a loved one, as was the case with Rachel watching her sister Zelda slowly die, or the fear of one day losing a member of the family.
It’s a theme that’s continuously repeated throughout, with each death becoming more and more powerful.
There are several references to Christ, bringing Lazarus back from the dead. This is later paralleled in the book by Louis’s own actions. It also says a lot about the role of a father, and how they can mask their own selfish actions as being for the good of the family.
Several times Louis goes to do something, questions his own integrity, but does it anyway. It means that regardless of the consequences, his loved ones will often have to deal with the burden.
Pet Sematary is an excellent book that delivers much more than your usual jump scares.
King is intent on pushing boundaries, and getting you to think about how you would deal with situations if given the same powers as Louis. Although there are a few parts that drag out a little, the book is well-rounded and offers a decisive outcome.
Now I’m off to watch the films to completely undo all the suspense and magic of this book.