Cujo (Signet) by Stephen King
One Of Kings Best, If Not The Best.
Cujo is so well-paced and scary that people tend to read it quickly, so they
mostly remember the scene of the mother and son trapped in the hot
Pinto and threatened by the rabid Cujo, forgetting the multifaceted story in
which that scene is embedded. This is definitely a novel that rewards re-
reading. When you read it again, you can pay more attention to the theme
of country folk vs. city folk; the parallel marriage conflicts of the Cambers
vs. the Trentons; the poignancy of the amiable St. Bernard (yes, the breed
choice is just right) infected by a brain-destroying virus that makes it into a
monster; and the way the daylight burial of the failed ad campaign is
reflected in the sunlit Pinto that becomes a coffin. And how significant it is
that this horror tale is not supernatural: its as real as junk food, a failing
marriage, a broken-down car, or a fatal virus.
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This is one of Kings most poetic, beautifully written works, and
simultaneously one of his most horrifying. Its hard to put into words how
amazingly well crafted it is, how the words flow, how the characters live. I
wish someone would ask King what he means about not being able to
remember writing large sections of it ... was it because of inebriation at the
time, or alcohol and drug abuse later that damaged his memory of writing
it? Because the novel itself is one of the best, most lucid things hes ever
written, and King is utterly and sincerely committed to its reality, something
that seems to have disappeared from his more recent works. Can it be that
at one time alcohol helped him actually face the horror of what he was
The novel is almost unique among his longer works in that the
supernatural element is suggested to be underlying everyday reality, not
forcefully poking its head into it to prove its presence. Every element can
be explained psychologically or naturally, leaving the sense of spiritual
malevolence as a suggestion, not actually manifest in some intruding non-
natural form, and even the never explained mystery of the rearranging
closet contents could be explained by sleepwalking. This ac tually allows
the spiritual to be felt by the reader with way more force, supported by the
natural elements the reader encounters every day. Much has been made
of Kings use of the everday in his fiction, but so many fail to point to this
novel as illustrating his most powerful and masterful use of it.
I can only think of one element that some might find distasteful, and that is
the way the story punishes one character excessively for the crime of
being a coward, as this might indicate a bit of insecurity on the authors
part, directed towards the character for the way this fear brings about
tragedy. But Kings genuine effort to understand this character and the fear
that is suffered by the character shows that he was trying with all honesty
to see things from that characters point of view. A second subplot,
involving a counterpart to this character, seems also to point to this
insecurity (both are women and the sub-plots are about their choices
regarding their relationships with their husbands).
And the characters, oh the characters! Old deaf Evie, with her cigarettes
and foul mouthed forecasts is one that I dearly love and remember, and
King obviously dearly loved and crafted. The most hopeless and lost of his
poor rural-Maine characters are seen with sympathy and affection, and not
as a cheap trick to make the horror more effective, but because the
authors feelings about them seem genuine.
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