Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Death is a mystery, and burial is secret
— Stephen King
King utilises all of the instruments in his depraved toolshed in this horrific novel about the secret practice of burial, and the great taboo of death. Like so many King novels, it begins with a regular, All-American family who move to a small town, in this case Ludlow, Maine, to begin life anew. Dr. Louis Creed takes a job with the local university, while his wife Rachel and his young children Ellie and Gage, along with their pet cat Winston Churchill, settle into their new life far from the hustle and bustle of Chicago.
The only thing remotely wrong with their new house is the busy road out front, where oil tankers from Orinco blast down the long gradient, their compression brakes rumbling. The Creeds are warned of these trucks on the day they arrive by their elderly neighbours, Judson and Norma Crandall, friendly locals who have deep roots in Ludlow. It is not until Louis’ first day at work that cracks begin to form in the simple life the Creeds have begun to construct, where a disturbing event occurs outside the norm of reality that has Louis badly spooked and having waking nightmares.
What follows is a dark descent into unknowable things, matters that man was not meant to trifle with. When Judson first shows the Creed family the pet cemetery in the woods behind their house, the resting place for beloved animals that the children of Ludlow have built up and cared for for years, the practice seems harmless if a little unwholesome. It is what lies beyond the deadfall at one end of the clearing, a barrier between the horrors of the Northcountry and the small town of Ludlow, a land of swamps, loons, deep woods, and ancient Micmac Indian burial grounds, that brings about the downfall of all those who seek its power.
I find my favourite part of many of King’s books is the rich backstory that he develops for his small towns with dark secrets. This is especially prominent in IT, with scenes of Pennywise’s murderous influence over the citizens of Derry throughout the town’s long history, leading to brutal acts of violence. In Pet Sematary, Judson Crandall is the conduit for these disturbing tales, having lived in Ludlow his entire life. Every sojourn into the past in King’s novels has a different feel to it, a trip into times where life was often harsher, everyone was less instantly informed, and deep bonds between townspeople and the primal landscape made fear reverberate all the stronger.
The soil of a man’s heart is stonier…a man grows what he can, and he tends it.
Parts of this novel were absolutely heart-wrenching, and King’s dealings with subject matters of grief, loss, and insanity are awe-inspiring and impactful. Louis and the Creeds are taken from highs to dizzying lows, and like a car crash it is horrible to keep reading, though equally impossible to tear away your gaze. Through all the horror there were moments which brought me close to tears, and I feel that with each novel King pours a piece of his own heart and his own family into it.
Like always, King does take some time to get to the point in places of the novel, overflowing chapters with minute details and skimmable prose, though like always the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Take a step into the Indian woods, though don’t look down when you’re climbing the deadfall. Once you start falling, you may never stop.