I have not read nearly as much Stephen King as I like to let on, and I am truly the one who suffers. With each King novel I read, the more in awe I become of his writing. While he usually rides that fine line between pulp and well-crafted literature, I know that my opinion of his work will stay firmly in the later camp after reading Pet Sematary. This books IS a fun pulpy horror, but it is so well written and paced that I felt like I was reading something important and profound. Honestly, Pet Sematary is important and profound.
King has told the story many times of how he came to write (and almost not publish) this influential work. When he was younger and living on a rural Maine road much like the one the family lives on in the novel, King watched in horror as his young toddler son almost ran right into the road as a huge truck rumbled by. This close call prompted him to think about what could have happened, and the result was a grisly and painful story about life, death, and grief.
Louis Creed and his young family move to Maine for his job in the health center of a local university. King’s mastery begins immediately, planting vibrations of danger and warning without actually doing so throughout his text. Louis befriends the older Crandall couple across the street, becoming especially close with Jud the husband. Jud told Louis stories about the neighborhood from back in the day and showed the Creed family the peculiar little pet cemetery up a path in the woods behind their house. This was the first step to their eventual downfall. Most people are familiar with the general plot of Pet Sematary, and if you aren’t then I refuse to ruin for you. PLEASE pick it up asap and read it. It’s horrific and poetic all at the same time.
What was truly fascinating was the central theme of the human relationship with death. Louis’ wife Rachel could not face death as an adult because as a child she had front row seats to her sister’s traumatizing death of spinal meningitis. Her sister died spitefully when the two of them were alone, their parents out for a party. Because of this, Rachel cannot face even the reality and eventuality of natural death, even going so far as to scream at Louis that death is not natural at all. This is a particularly interesting thing to say to Louis since he is a doctor and has a very clinical and business-like relationship with death. Jud and Norma Crandall have seen many people die and are looking at death themselves. And Jud has seen death reverse itself as well. So what is natural and unnatural?
This brought up two things in my brain. The first was Halloween, of course. Halloween is an evolution of a few different ancient holidays, but the most prominent is the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain is a harvest/New Year festival where both business and partying occurred. Celts also believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinnest then, so it was a time to speak with and honor your dead loved ones. Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is also a day to honor and commune with dead loved ones, but when celebrated in mainstream America this important aspect of both holidays is brushed aside. Why? Probably because we have a fucked up relationship with death and the dead!
There is a very interesting organization called the Order of the Good Death that promotes healthy relationships with death. From their website:
The Order of the Good Death is a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality…The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears- whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.
I follow them on Facebook and enjoy the articles they post about things like haunted houses, recovered ledgers of suspected witches, ancient burial rites, and more. Their members also write wonderful blog posts about topics that fall within their mission statement. They also host an annual Death Salon, which is run by a fellow University of Pittsburgh School of Information Science Alumna, and I hope one day to be able to attend.
My Grandmother passed away right in the middle of my reading Pet Sematary. In particular, I was at the funeral scene (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about). Admittedly, that was difficult. I couldn’t help but think about burying my own Grandma in the Pet Sematary so I could have some tea with her again. I miss her a lot. But I can’t have her back, and reading this book did actually help me come to terms with that.
The moral of Pet Sematary, and one I truly believe in, is something that Jud Crandall says: “Sometimes Louis, dead is better.” I read that as acceptance. Acceptance that people you love have died, but they can still live through you in memories and traditions. Acceptance that you will die, but you still have a wonderful life ahead of you to enjoy so stop obsessing or denying death. Don’t give yourself a complex. Don’t become Louis Creed! When I think of “dead is better” I think of being on good terms with death. It is a life-long project, but we can get started now.
I also listened to Ghost Story by Peter Straub on audible in October. I knew going into it that it would be scary, since it’s on all the lists for best horror novels, but wow! There were times where I was listening to it on the bus (in broad daylight surrounded by people) where I was clutching my seat with my eyes wide in terror! I’m sure everyone thought I was on something. I really enjoyed this twisty story about a demon coming back to mess with a group of old friends after they were involved in a horrible accident in their youth. It begins as a series of ghost stories they tell each other, but continues on in a more linear way as they have to battle the demon in their own lives. This book is so good. My only gripe is that I actually had a hard time following along with the audiobook, especially in the beginning with the stories. The next time I revisit this title I’ll be sure to read a hard copy. Regardless, I highly recommend it!
November’s genre is young adult here at the Shameful Book Club, and I have a great one that I very recently lied about. Anne of Green Gables, everyone! That’s right, I’m a dick! I loved the miniseries growing up so my mom (again) gifted me a copy as a kid. Never read it. With the new Netflix series coming out soon, I recently rewatched the miniseries and talked all over god’s green earth about how much I loved Anne of Green Gables and definitely not saying that I hadn’t read any of the books. Lots of my friends echoed my love, so I just went along with pretending like I’d read them. Sorry!! I’m going to read it now lol