Hi, everyone! It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything, and, because I had not been getting much reading done, I took a hiatus from blogging to focus on teaching and to enjoy summer vacation. I’m back today to share my thoughts on Stephen King’s novel “Pet Sematary.” 🙂
I hadn’t originally planned on reading this book, but before the school year ended, one of my students who had borrowed the book from my classroom bookshelf returned it to me, and that spurred the idea for me to give the book a shot over the summer break. After all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Shining” last year.
Synopsis (No Spoilers)
“Pet Sematary” tells the story of Louis Creed, who moves his young family and wife to Ludlow, Maine after being hired for a position as a doctor at the nearby university’s health offices. Louis and his family move into a house in the outskirts of town across the street from the elderly couple Jud and Norma Crandall. The Crandalls become close friends of the Creeds, and Jud soon becomes a father-figure to Louis.
But Louis’s good circumstances take a turn for the worst after a fateful first-day at his new job when college student Victor Pascow is brought into his office due to a terrible accident while jogging. As Pascow approaches death, his final ominous words to Louis warn about the Pet Sematary behind Louis’s house – a warning that soon becomes true. As Jud one day shows Louis and his family the “Pet Sematary”, it is the old Micmac burial ground that lies beyond the pet cemetery that is the source of a tempting attraction, as it contains the power to resurrect the dead that are buried there and manipulate a person’s grief with a supernatural force.
My Thoughts (Spoilers Ahead)
In the Introduction of the novel, King claims that this is the most frightening book he has ever written, which is often a shock to fans who may think that such a title would belong to “The Shining.” In fact, he explains his initial hesitancy to publish the book because of how grim its content is. I knew that I was in for something indeed frightening, but I didn’t understand to what extent that could really be – until I got to the part where Louis Creed loses his two-year-old son, Gage, in a traumatic vehicle accident on the busy street in front of their home. Louis, his wife, and their other young daughter, Ellie, spiral into a terrible grief that I could only imagine is one of the worst possible nightmares to experience.
This is what makes “Pet Sematary” such a frightening book: it shows how death is lurking around every corner, ready to consume the lives not only of those who die, but also of their loved ones who are left behind. King does such a phenomenal job on playing on people’s fear of death in this way – not quite in terms of a fear of one’s own death but the fear of losing one that you love.
Louis feels immense emotions of grief and emptiness after Gage’s death, and I couldn’t help but feel such grief myself, as King pulls the reader into the darkness of grief like no other book I have read – and it is quite the frightening experience! While reading, I often found myself paranoidly fearing the deaths of the loved ones in my life and putting myself in the shoes of a parent who loses a child, which is a feeling that is too terrible and heart-wrenching to fathom.
But what also makes the novel’s themes about death more harrowing is the ways in which they are explored from many angles. There’s that of Louis’s wife Rachel who at a young age experienced the death of her sister Zelda who died from spinal meningitis and in whose final years was almost unrecognizable physically and emotionally. Rachel admits to Louis, with a mixture of shame and defiance, the sense of relief she felt when Zelda died – an opposite emotion to what is felt when Gage dies and also a parallel emotion to what Rachel’s parents must have felt when they lost their own child. In this, I was surprised to see this other view of death in the book and its exploration of the concept “dead is better,” a quote and idea that resonates throughout.
Then, there is also the aspect of the magical powers of the Micmac cemetery beyond the “Pet Sematary” where Jud shows Louis its powers to raise anything buried there back to life, as Louis finds out after burying the family cat who returns to life.
The idea of bringing the dead to life is definitely not a new one, and while we all may think we would never do such a taboo thing like that if we could, “Pet Semetary” gets readers to think twice about this idea through the grief-stricken perspective of Louis who can’t imagine continuing to live without his beloved son. Even though the stories of animals and people that have been buried in the Micmac’s grounds are not hopeful ones – everything that resurrects is either practically soul-less and without personality or vengeful and hateful – Louis is driven to madness by his grief and decides to bury Gage to bring him back to life.
As expected, this does not turn out well and Gage becomes the latter of the two forms that the resurrected take on and ends up killing Jud and his mom, Rachel. Louis has to then kill Gage so that he dies for good, and the book ends with the crazed Louis who now buries his wife. She makes a brief appearance in the final events of the epilogue, showing the never-ending cycle which the Micmac burial grounds holds on anyone who is tempted by its powers of resurrection.
My one critique of the book centers on the ending, as it felt rushed and was lacking the emotions from Louis that I would have expected, specifically in the part where he needs to put his son’s life to an end for good. With the trauma that Louis has experienced, I would think that it wouldn’t be so easy for him to kill his son, even though I understand that he realizes his son has become a monster. Still, I would have liked to have seen some internal debate in which Louis has trouble coming to terms with killing Gage.
With this exception of the book’s ending, I found “Pet Sematary” to be the perfect book to get invested in over the summer. One thing I would warn anyone who is interested in reading it, however, is that the book’s themes of death, and especially the death of a child, are dark and may be difficult to bear for anyone who has experienced deep levels of grief over losing a loved one and/or of losing a child.
Thank you for checking out today’s book review! I hope to be uploading more reviews in the near future, though they may be slow in the process. I hope you are safe and well, and, until next time, happy reading! 🙂