Review: ‘Pet Sematary’


Pet Sematary

By Stephen King

  • Date finished: June 29, 2014
  • Genre: Fiction, Horror
  • Year: 1984
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2014
  • Grade: A-
  • Thoughts upon reading:

First things first, I’m surprised it took me as long as it did for me to read Pet Sematary. As everyone knows, Stephen King is my total fangirl-fav, and I worship at his alter, and this book has always looked particularly terrifying. How could I resist? How did I resist?

Second, now that I finally did read this book, I think the world decided to play a particularly nasty joke on me.  When I was more than three-quarters of the way done with Pet Sematary, last weekend, I learned that the dog I grew up with died. He was an old guy and had been plagued by nasty health problems in recent weeks, and my parents finally put the sweet pooch down. Now, this was not “my” dog – it was my brother’s. I’ve always been more of a cat person, and I still get sad when I think of my first kitty, who died when I was 18. But Doogie’s death (my maiden name is Houser, so Doogie Houser…har-har) hit me like a ton of bricks. Death is a weird thing…when I’m sad or mourning a death (luckily I haven’t had to mourn many), I feel like something has…crumpled inside me, leaving an empty space that just hurts. The only way to relieve the pain is to fill that empty place with tears.

Eventually the tears dry up, and I start to imagine our happy pup in what I like to believe is the afterlife – a happier place where he’s young and agile again, where he can run around in endless circles in the yard, chew up all the squeaker dog toys, and bark at a never-ending line of motorcycles. I also think of all the poor pups and kitties in shelters and foster homes, just begging for a chance at a happy life. And I realize: at least when it comes to a pet, the best way to mourn is to remember the good times and then pour that love into making the life of some other puppy or kitty just as happy.

But even though I say that, I’m not going to lie: death is hard. It’s hard to deal with. There are those stages, including the denial and bartering stage: “No, I don’t believe he/she is gone. If only I could have one more day…just one more. I’ll give anything!” In the real world, nothing comes of that. Not so in a Stephen King story, and in Pet Sematary, this is exactly what we’re dealing with.

On the surface, Pet Sematary about a cemetery in rural Maine (where else?) where if you bury something that’s died, it will come back to life – albeit more like a zombie than anything else. For decades, the most anyone has ever buried there has been pets. Some come back and live an OK life. They always smell of death and they never seem to have that same spark, but at least they’re there, right? There was a bull, though, who came back and he came back mean – but that was the only bad one.

When the new family in town loses their cat, the myth of the pet sematary is brought back to life – but this time, it’s looking to take a little more from the land of the living.

Creepy, right? Totally. Not since The Shining has a book – especially a Stephen King book – given me (as Owen Meany would say) the shivers. Yeah, this story definitely left me with an uneasy, sinking feeling in my gut, and while reading it, I found myself growing incredibly anxious. I think it’s because of its subject matter – not zombie animals coming back to life, but death. Dealing with death. Bartering with death. Accepting death. The idea that death isn’t final, but there are monstrous consequences if you try tampering with it. But once you start, can you ever stop?

Anyway, if any Stephen King book can give me the shivers nowadays, I’d have to say it’s a good one. Maybe one of his best, creepiest, tales. But still, I have to give it an A- because, unfortunately, it just hit too close to home. It left me feeling a little too uncomfortable, made my heart race a little too much, and filled my dreams with too many weird thoughts. Reading Pet Sematary, in fact, felt like being in a Stephen King novel – I felt like the book itself had some kind of strange force, sitting there in my purse or on my desk. Of course I had to read it, but it seemed to fill me with some kind of blackness at the same time.

Of course I don’t blame the book for my dog’s death, but this parallel hit just a little too close to home: in the book, the main character believes the pet sematary is not only responsible for bringing creatures back to life, it’s also responsible for their deaths as well. It brings on death…if only to trick you into its snares. Was my dog dying while I read this an awful coincidence? Of course. Did it creep me out anyway? Oh yeah.


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