Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Stephen King Project - Pet Sematary

Sigh, this book is really not good.

When reading The Shining I noticed that King's writing style had changed, matured. I remember thinking to myself, while reading up about Jack Torrance's drinking and accidents before he arrived at The Overlook, that King had finally learned how to tell a character's back story without that character needing to be telling a story to another character, which is how almost all of the back story happened in Salem's Lot.

Salem's Lot was a good book. I enjoyed it. But I definitely noticed that the only way we learned about the characters was by them telling stories to each other. It's a fine way of finding out about their past, but it can become awkward to put characters in a position where story telling happens.

From The Shining forward, King's writing has gained more narrative ways of telling back story and they've been much easier and more enjoyable to read.

Until Pet Sematary.

Though to be fair, a lot of things about Pet Sematary are the worst parts of King's writing.

There is no foreshadowing, there is only giant freaking gongs. There is a part of the book early on, maybe the first night they are in the new house, where Louis is carrying Gage to bed and he gets a feeling of dread. So heavy handed.

There is also an absolutely unnecessary amount of description of things which don't matter. The first trip the entire family take together to the Pet Sematary is almost 9 pages long. Nine pages of describing tall grass, a view of the valley, a stand of trees that meet overhead, absolutely unnecessary. It's not like when King was describing the Marsten house or the hedge animals or the car, these places and things were also characters. The walk to the Pet Sematary is not a character. In fact the cemetery itself is also not a character because it's the Micmac burial grounds behind the cemetery which is the monster.

These were problems I was already having with this book, only a third of the way in after having started it almost 3 weeks ago.

But tonight, I've reached this new realization, that King has forgotten how to tell narrative. So much of this book is already Louis listening to Jud's old stories, but now, after having spent pages following the walk from the cemetery to the Micmac burial grounds, I am reading a passage of Jud telling Louis how he found out about the cemetery by recounting exactly the same trip I just read!

This book was published in the same year as Christine, and it shows. I'm not sure if it was an old draft of something he hadn't taken another pass at yet which he submitted because the publisher wanted something fast, or if it was some first draft he wrote because they wanted something and he never cared to make it better.

Either way, it's clear this book was not completed, not worked on to become the best it could, or even good. And it's kind of a shame, because the idea of whether to move forward from trauma or hold on to a past until it destroys you is a great idea. I hope somewhere in the later published books he comes back to the same idea.


I have been reading all of Stephen King's novels in chronological order of publishing date since June of 2019. Any documentation on my thoughts have been orally shared on The Village Podcast by the Bookshelf. You can listen back for updates there.