Pet Sematary, Part Two: The Book

First, let’s look at what worked in the book; the positives. In no particular order:

 

  • Louis Creed, the main character of the story, has a complex relation with the women in his life (his wife Rachel and daughter Ellie), which makes him a more interesting character than just an average “nice family man”. He feels exhausted by them and occasionally resentful, implicitly related to his loss of youth, “manhood”, and general freedom that being single and unattached provides.  He is drawn to male friendships such as with Steve Masterton, his colleague, and Jud Crandall, his elderly neighbor, who also acts as the father figure that Louis never really had growing up. He is particularly attached to his son, Gage Creed, both before and after the accident that spurs the story’s main conflict into motion.
  • As a doctor, Louise is a man of science, skepticism, and reason; agnostic, if not atheistic. He is clearly intelligent, which makes it all the more understandable and tragic as we follow his reasoning into whether or not he should attempt to revive his toddler from death. He attempts to hypothesize and experiment, despite the fact that we know, deep down, that he knows he’s dealing with something he cannot hope to understand or control. Some might claim stupidity here, but I think it’s a case like the Thestrals from Harry Potter.

Only those who have known loss can really see it.

  • The supernatural elements are superb and chilling. I don’t believe that the presence of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic demonic spirit of Native American lore, is ever directly stated to be the cause of the burial ground’s power, but rather drawn to its power and influence and perhaps adding to its overall strength. The unknown is inherently unnerving to people, and so the power of something not of this world, unable to be fully comprehended let alone controlled by the characters, both bringing the dead back to life and setting events beyond its borders into motion, is truly horrifying. We’re never quite sure how doomed the prey are, so the chance that they could escape or reason out of it at some point keep us invested, with eyes full of suspense.
  • The way the dead behave, both in general and towards the living, is very creepy. The book describes the animals as always smelling foul, lumbering around almost drunkenly, and having glazed-over eyes. Church the cat continues catching mice and birds, but tears them up and leaves them uneaten and bloody. The family, unbeknownst to his death and resurrection, starts to regard him as unpleasant and irritation, while Louis begins freaking out internally at Church’s touch and presence.

I also like that the rule is “each buries his own.” What you resurrect is your responsibility, and you have to want it badly enough to break through the hard, “sour ground”.

  • The dead humans speak with knowledge that they could not possibly possess, and frequently taunt their victims with their own sins, particularly while manipulating their own voices and appearances. The first human mentioned doesn’t even kill anyone, but terrifies the town and drives his father insane. Gage Creed‘s transformation to the dark side is particularly noticeable for going from speak few word sentences to full, adult sentences, and, like a zombie, bearing his hideous mortal injuries.
  • It is interesting that, when Louis considers the hypotheticals of bringing his son back to life, I think he thinks more of Gage being handicapped than potentially evil. I suppose it’s because, despite Jud’s story about Timmy Baterman, Louis thinks that Gage will be like Church, but he also completely disregards the idea that he would be as unnerved by Gage’s presence as he is with Church in the present. It is touching and tragically understandable, though, that he would still love and cherish his son, even if his mind was deteriorated.
  • If, as Jud says, “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, like the soil up there in that old Micmac burying ground,” does that imply that a man’s heart is bad (“sour”) or that it has the potential to go bad? I think what King is trying to say is that a man has a harder time “planting seeds, growing, and mending” things in his heart, but the whole line is vague enough to be interesting in both the film and the movie.
  • I like the discussion of Rachel’s sister, Zelda. Illnesses that impact the body and mind are difficult enough to deal with for the affected person, but though it might not be flattering to Rachel or her family’s characters, it does feel like they have a real reaction to such a situation. In a time not unlike that of Rosemary Kennedy, a family had to struggle with loving their daughter and taking care of her (despite, in this case, her deterioration causing her to become resentful) and keeping up social appearances.

We can’t pretend that sort of thing didn’t happen. It still happens to some people, albeit to a lesser extent. These days, we are becoming more knowledgeable and sympathetic to the conditions that affect the body and mind, but though it may be cruel and unfair, Rachel regarding her sister as a monster in the later stages of her condition and her parents looking at her as “a dirty secret” in their back room is understandable when given some context. Controversial, but still.

 

And now, for the more negative:

  • The action comes to a grinding halt in the middle for a while, which can be hard to get through.
  • King’s “foreshadowing” of Gage’s death is too on-the-nose, and really takes away from what little shock there is when he tragically dies.
  • While the quirky habit of King’s of repeating of certain words, phrases, song lyrics, and colloquialisms (my particular love-hate line for this book is “Oz the Gweat and Tewwible”, which is Zelda’s and becomes a metaphor for death when brought up by the other characters) can make them more poignant and meaningful later in the narrative, sometimes they come across as goofy now, then, or later.
  • Hey…you know…if the Micmacs stopped using the ground when it “went sour”…does that mean that it ever worked out well? Did the ground always bring people back to life, or only after enough victims of cannibalism were put there?

O.o…so many unanswered questions!

 

To Be Continued

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

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