Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Title: Pet Sematary

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Year: 1983

“The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis – like the soil up there in the old Micmac burying ground. Bedrock’s close. A man grows what he can… and he tends it.”

When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job and moves his family to the idyllic rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Despite Ludlow’s tranquillity, the town is not as safe as it seems. Those trucks on the road outside the Creed’s beautiful home travel by just a little too quickly, for one thing… as is evidenced by the makeshift graveyard in the nearby woods, where for generations children have buried their beloved pets. Then there are the warnings that Louis receives, both real and from the depths of his nightmares, that he should not venture beyond the borders of the Pet Sematary, where another burial ground, ancient and more sinister, lures with seductive promises and temptations. A blood-chilling truth is hidden there—one more terrifying than death itself, and hideously more powerful. As Louis is about to discover for himself, sometimes dead is better… 

A closer look

Honestly, it’s hard to talk about this book without getting into spoilers. Even though it’s relatively long, I feel all the points I’d like to discuss openly might take from your enjoyment of the story. So I’ll take a step back and start with the story of how I came to read this book, and let’s see where that gets me.

I have a difficult relationship with Stephen King. The first book of his I remember reading is Rose Madder. I don’t hear many people talk about it, but I was eleven or twelve when I found it on a bookshelf in my house and decided to read it, and it terrified me. I also found Insomnia lying about, so a couple of years later I read that too, and I remember that it was interesting, but way too long. I read The Shining, which… I don’t remember very well, and then tried Cujo, but I think I never finished it because I didn’t care enough. A few years later I started reading Under the Dome, another brick, and I got maybe two hundred pages in before calling it quits.

After that, for a pretty long time I thought I was done with the author. Sure, he was very famous and all, but clearly his works were not for me. There were some titles that still intrigued me, but I put them on the back-burner and focused on other things.

Then, quite recently, I started following a couple of booktubers that might be mildly obsessed with King’s work, and they convinced me to try. Pet Sematary was an easy choice: aside from being one of the recommendations, I watched the 2019 movie adaptation and so I thought I knew what to expect. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes I enjoy experiencing a story in two different formats and seeing the differences. And boy, were there differences between the book and the movie.

I won’t really talk about the movie, as I watched it more than a year ago and don’t remember too much about it. But while the movie is more focused on the horror aspect of the story, the book is something else. Yes, there are creepy things and scary scenes, but it’s mostly a story about grief and learning to accept death.

The plot itself is very slow. The horror appears early on, but it’s mostly hints and little things, and the main focus of the novel is the day-to-day life of Louis and his family, and how they adapt to their new surroundings. Death is one of the main protagonists of the story: the characters will talk about it again and again, explaining its meaning to Ellie, Louis’s little girl, but also exploring how a death in the family traumatised his wife when she was only a child.

Here and there, King sprinkles bits of foreshadowing, and at least in one case it’s absolutely heartbreaking. The hints about the town’s past and the story of the Pet Sematary are also extremely interesting and well distributed. We never know too much too soon, but we’re given enough hints to be able to piece the story together if we pay attention. I also have a thing for dreams that are more than dreams – prophecies and warnings, but also when they simply leave a tangible trace on the dreamer upon waking up.

The real horror of the story doesn’t show itself until the last fourth of the book, give or take, and that’s when I couldn’t really put it down. Because mixed with the fear, there was still a little hope that things could go well.
We struggle together with Louis as he makes his choices at the end. The way the rational part of his brain tries to talk him out of it, and the way it takes him less and less time to dismiss it every time the thought comes to his mind, was very well done and realistic. Every time he considers the idea, he’s more convinced that it will work. And even as he’s putting it into act, and unexpected problems come up, he’s quick to dismiss his doubts and keep going. The grief and desperation he feels are tangible. And the reader is completely powerless as the rest of the story unfolds. Despite siding with the rational part of Louis’s brain, we can’t do anything to convince him to step back, to let it go. And that’s why I think this book is so powerful. We don’t want to follow Louis down this path, but at this point it’s already too late, we don’t have a choice anymore. Just like it is for Louis himself.

This book is much more than a simple horror story. It’s an exploration of death and grief, and how far people are willing to go to restore what they have lost, even when they know it’s pointless. If there’s something King is good at, is characters; and it’s easy to get attached to Louis and understand the reasoning behind all of his choices, even when the reader doesn’t approve of them.

I believe this could be a good choice for someone who isn’t familiar with the author and would like to start reading his works, but take my words with a pinch of salt. I haven’t read too much by Stephen King, and what little I read was so long ago that I don’t feel I can really judge. What I can say is that Pet Sematary is a good story, and if you can overlook the fact that the author gets a bit verbose at times, it’s well worth your time. I guess, at this point, that I might push those other books I have a little higher on my list…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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