Giving Pet Sematary a Second Chance

About four years ago I bought myself a copy of Pet Sematary. It was scary, everyone had told me, but not as scary as other novels by Stephen King. I intended to read it in October, since I always dedicate that month to scary books (that one and other months, I must admit), but when I read the introduction Stephen King had written for it, I was convinced this book would give me nightmares.

King admits on this brief introduction that, from all the things he has written, Pet Sematary is the one that scares him the most. Uh-oh, I thought, for by that time this guy had given me the chills a couple of times before. What could be worst than Carrie‘s gore or The Shining‘s nightmarish room 237? Did I really want to find out? By the time I was on page 100 I was expecting the worst, even though nothing happened. By Halloween night, after watching a couple horror movies with a friend, I ended up alone at home, reading Pet Sematary… and that’s when I decided to not finish it. Nothing had really happened but I was about to have an anxiety attack, I kinda knew what was coming and I didn’t think I wanted to even entertain those possibilities in my mind, alone, at night.

So I dumped the book and spent four years wondering if Louis Creed, the protagonist, would actually do what I thought he would do. And then last year I read ‘Salem’s Lot and found it so fun and not very terrifying and I thought, maybe Stephen King just does not scare me anymore. And last week I gave Pet Sematary another chance. Spoiler alert, it scared the hell out of me.

In case you don’t know, Pet Sematary is the story of a family, the Creeds, who move to a small town called Ludlow in Maine. The house they buy is right in front of a very busy road, which proves a worry for them considering they have a cat, Winston Churchill, a girl of five, Ellie, and a boy of barely two, Gage. To make matters worse, their neighbor Jud shows them a cemetery of pets that is right behind their house. This “Pet Sematary” was made by local children to honor their dead pets, most of them killed by cars. When Louis Creeds visits the Pet Sematary he perceives something, a vague presence that inhabits that land (a land that used to be a burial ground for the MicMac tribe, a placed said to be cursed by the Wendigo) and somehow you, the reader, know that, like many of King’s protagonists, this guy is gonna lose his shit because of that place, you just don’t know how yet.

illustration by Taylor Rose

What I found most disturbing was that this novel was deeply personal for Stephen King, who wrote it when he got a job at the University of Maine and went with his wife and two children (aged 2 and 5) to live in a house facing a busy road. There was a pet cemetery there and they had a cat who got ran over and was buried there. Moreover, King relates how his two-year-old son almost got ran over too, and the unbearable thought of losing him was the whole idea behind the novel. That and the story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, in which a family wishes for their dead son to come back and he does, but he’s a bit changed.

As I said before, for almost 500 pages nothing happens. But something is always lurking, something is going on right where you cannot see it, something is working and bringing you to think the unthinkable. I would say this novel is really a very creepy meditation on death and the pain of losing someone, but there’s just so much going on: flolklore, evil, love, ghosts, madness… there’s just enough of the supernatural to make it a “ghost story”, but most of the book is really about death: what does it mean to die?, what would happen if we could come back from death?, what is there on the other side of the veil? Most of all, the book is a warning: be careful what you wish for.

Needless to say, this time I finished the novel. Although I didn’t like the ending (the book could have done without the last 50 pages), I think this is one of Stephen King’s finest works. It is not as scary as it is disturbing, because although it has all those eerie elements that make for a good terror story, the real fright does not come from the pet sematary, or the ghosts/zombies, or the wendigo. Rather, the book calls on something primordial and inevitable but all the same horrifying: our relationship with death and how heartbreaking, maddening really, it is to lose a loved one.

Have you guys read Pet Sematary? Did you like it? So far I have read this one, The Shining, Night Shift and Salem’s Lot and liked them all. Which other novel by Stephen King would you recommend? I’ll link below my YouTube review for Pet Sematary (in Spanish), thanks for reading!

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