When I was young I read horror. Not exclusively (there was a time in my teens when I read lots of romance novels too, the so-called “bodice rippers”, suggesting I wasn’t exactly stuck on one genre) but I was definitely drawn to it. Stephen King was a favorite. At the time critics were hard on him – I remember one comparing him to the literary equivalent of a Bic Mac & fries – which I found unjustified and unfair. I saw his books as novels first, with well-drawn characters and believable dialogue, and the horror aspects while not incidental, as vehicles in his story-telling.
Then there was actual horror in my real life and although I can’t say that was the only reason, in retrospect it was certainly a large one in why I stopped reading fictional horror. I lost my taste for it.
Many years passed. As I’ve blogged before, while I still read some books, newspapers, and magazines, the internet, in the last ten years or so, became the primary focus of my reading, the culprit that slowly damaged my ability to sit down with a book. I still thought of myself as a “reader” but how many books was I actually consuming? Not so many it turns out. I was not happy with myself. I’d let the internet take a dominant place in my life and not entirely for the better.
In 2018, among other goals, I planned to read 20 books. At year’s end, I’d read 30. I set the same goal for 2019 an I’ve already read 24 this year. LESS INTERNET MORE BOOKS.
Although I’d shied from him for a long time, I’d not forgotten my earlier attachment to King. His output and his stature as a writer have only grown. At one point I’d known that he’d even assumed a pseudonym for a series of books in order to temporarily escape the fame and reputation his own name held. I wondered if I could – or should – read him again. I wasn’t sure if it would appeal so I started with a slim newer volume, Elevation. Then I picked up Pet Sematary, a book I’d read long ago and was aware had been made into a movie last year (one I haven’t seen). It had been such a long time I remembered only that it was a book about pets coming back to life and being “not quite right.” I knocked out the 400-page novel in 4 days (the way I USED to read). This book is so much more than I recalled, which admittedly wasn’t much.
Pet Sematary is largely a book about grief. Dealing with loss. In part I want to say, how had I not seen or remembered that from my first read but I know the answer. I was young when I read it. I didn’t really know about grief. I am newly blown away by King’s insights, insights he had as a relatively young man (it’s noted that he wrote the book from ’79-’82), but he was a father of young children and although I’m not a parent, I have an understanding now of the love and fear that go into a good parent’s sense of responsibility for their children.
Humor loops through the tale as well as dread, a dark humor perhaps, yet one I appreciate deeply and recognize as a tool in my own arsenal for dealing with those parts of life which are unfathomable and threaten to crush those they strike.
If you love you will lose. Be that love for a person or a pet, the risk is always there. If you live long enough and you are capable of feeling, losing beloved people (and animals) to death is a given. And it changes people. Some never recover. Not unlike those brought back to life in Pet Sematary, they are never “quite the same” again.
It’s true of me. I’m not the same as I was when I first read King’s book. I already knew that but this book’s deeper meanings weren’t wholly apparent to me. While I no doubt enjoyed the book the first time I read it, there were elements to the horror that would have been lost to me because I’d yet to live them. This second read made that so very clear.
If it was possible, to what end would you go to “bring back” a pet or person who had died? Would you if you could? Even if they weren’t “quite right?” Even if it meant tangling around with dark forces that weren’t entirely benign and perhaps far worse? Pet Sematary wades into those murky waters and even though it’s a work of fiction, the questions it poses, even if posed metaphorically, are provocative.
In my own life I’ve worked hard to accept the deaths of people and animals I’ve loved. I felt convinced that how you handled loss – handled death – could and likely would determine how you conducted – and experienced – your life.