Stephen King once said that Pet Sematary is the scariest book he’s ever written. Here’s why I agree. Beware of spoilers for the following review.
As a horror fan, I can tell you that horror isn’t typically scary. Grotesque, sure- but scary? Besides jump scares, horror has very little horror in it, because most horror fans have the recognition of the horror not being real. Vampires, aliens, monsters? Not real, so in the back of your head you know it’s not scary. Instead, you enjoy it because of how unbelievable it is. But then there’s real horror- the kind that reflects very real situations, that makes your stomach churn and your heart race because as you read it, you can imagine it happening to yourself.
Stephen King is a master of this. The scariest part of IT wasn’t the clown alien- it was the domestic abuse, the horrors of an ugly, violent reality. Pet Sematary, on the other hand, tackles the very raw and real fear of death. Stephen King himself had a close call with his son and a truck- and he also went through having to explain death, especially pet death, to his children. It’s a relatable situation, and one that I believe you can feel the turmoil of in King’s writing. The horror, the struggle, the fear was real. Louis Creed’s thoughts, his imagining of everything being okay, was well written and crucial to the story. King’s personal stake made these moments all the more thought provoking. Though the writing is slow, the darkest parts of the novel are written beautifully, with a masterful use of emotion. It’s real, honest, and raw- making it a brilliant read.
Pet Sematary is a very human novel, at its core. One of the most well written parts of the novel was the descriptions of Gage’s death and the scenes that follow; the heartbroken reactions of the characters reacting to a tragic event. The grief in this novel is a very real depiction of how it is in real life. I also loved the truth of Rachel’s family- what they had been through, how they reacted, the strained relationships of her parents and her husband and the way her father tried to make things right in the end. There’s an honest discussion about death being natural versus death being unnatural, and I respected King showing both sides, showcasing Louis’ view of death and tragedy versus Rachel’s extremely opposite view.
Another thing to mention is the depiction of love in this book. King is known for his sex scenes often being written with an inappropriate or crude edge, but the romance between Louis and his wife Rachel was one of my favorite parts of the book. It feels very believable that they have the relationship of a husband and a wife, and the scenes between them were not as cheesy as I expected them to be. Moreso, the love that Louis had for his children was extremely apparent in this book. The other works I’ve read from Mr. King have not had healthy love in it, and Louis is a different kind of character- one who cares deeply for his family. Emotionally, this was a very strong read.
Now, all this sounds good, so you might wonder why I chose to give it a four and not a five star review. There is one main reason for this.
I believe that King gave away too much of the plot. It’s a great writing device, but I am not sure it worked well here. I knew the plot of the novel already, because I’ve seen the movies many times. But I found it jarring when King alluded to Norma Crandall’s death before it happened, and then again with his own son. It was clever, in many ways, but I just struggled with it having been revealed in that way. There was very little surprise in the novel- it all was rather linear, and while the writing was great, that lack of intrigue took it down a notch for me. I still believe this to be one of King’s better novels, though.