Stephen King is a pretty well known name in the horror genre, to be sure. Interestingly, his work has experienced more longevity in the audio-visual department. Still, with my ever-growing reading hobby, I thought it’s more than about time that I check out what a lot of folks — and the author himself — dub as King’s scariest book. So scary and disturbing that King had second thoughts about putting it out there. Receiving two film adaptations — one in 1989 and one in 2019, with the former receiving a sequel of its own and the latter, a prequel in the works — it’s time for me to dig up the story of Pet Sematary in literary form.
What is it About?
Written by Stephen King and first published in 1983, Pet Sematary is a supernatural and psychological horror novel.
When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job and moves his family to the idyllic rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Despite Ludlow’s tranquillity, an undercurrent of danger exists here. Those trucks on the road outside the Creed’s beautiful old home travel by just a little too quickly, for one thing… as is evidenced by the makeshift graveyard in the nearby woods where generations of children have buried their beloved pets. Then there are the warnings to Louis. both real and from the depths of his nightmares. that he should not venture. Beyond the borders of this little graveyard, however, is another burial ground lures with seductive promises and ungodly temptations. A blood-chilling truth is hidden there—one more terrifying than death itself, and hideously more powerful. As Louis is about to discover for himself sometimes, dead is better…
The author does a great job at establishing an oppressive atmosphere that gets bleaker and bleaker as the story progresses. Much unlike the film adaptations, the book is a slow-burn, which I appreciate. The Creed family is just your average family caught in the midst of great forces beyond their control, and as the book explores their day to day life, there is that sinking feeling that something really bad is going to happen to them.
Even though I’ve seen the movies and I know what eventually happens, the book still feels like a fresh experience. There’s discussions of life and death, courtesy of young Ellie Creed in the perfect role of a curious child. It’s also pretty interesting that her curiosities about death, including how her parents address that, cause some pretty intense tension between parents, Louis and Rachel, because the subject matter makes one of them relive the trauma they experienced during childhood – making for a disturbing aspect of the book in terms of psychology. There’s also something to be said about the Creeds’ neighbor, Jud Crandall, who has stories of his own about the titular burial ground, quite chilling in the sense of hushed local legends to which we’re all familiar.
Eventually, the cat’s let out of the bag about what the pet “sematary” can actually do, which sets in motion an unchangeable path for the Creeds and Jud Crandall’s family. It broke my heart to read about how a tragedy can shake this little family to its core… to a point they’re driven to desperate, irreversible actions. It all just feels like you’re being let into the world of this family; you get to know them in good times, in bad times, and in dark times. The good and bad are done so well that you get to feel for the characters and see them as live humans that when the dark times hit during the final act, it is devastating.
At times, it feels the readers are flies on the wall. We’re watching moments of joy, of sadness, of morbid curiosity. It’s all well and compelling. Then, we get to the tragic bits, and it feels like we’re reading something that we weren’t meant to read. The utter devastation the Creed family goes through, along with the lengths gone through to overcome grief, is deeply unsettling.
What Did Not Work?
I didn’t have any particular dislikes, but I’d imagine if you’re expecting the kind of fast pace the movies have, you might find yourself bored to tears. The book does take its time, but offers a richer experience. For example, we get to read about the Creeds’ initial suspicion about Jud, or the minutiae of of Louis’ job as a doctor at the university.
Some readers should also be made aware that this book does contain violence to animals and young characters, so heads up!
Where Can I Find It?
Pet Sematary is available through Kindle or physical copies on Amazon as well as wherever physical books are sold.
Pet Sematary is a disturbing supernatural cautionary tale. It takes you on a journey of no return that some readers may find slow but with a payoff that is darkly satisfying. While those looking for something with a brisker pace may feel like you want to look elsewhere, I implore you to check out this book. It makes a lot of “best horror book” lists for a reason.
Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.