Book Fourteen: Pet Sematary
“Sometimes people have to do things that just seem right. They seem right in their hearts, I mean. And if they do those things and then end up not feeling right, full of questions and sort of like they got indigestion, only inside their heads instead of their guts, they think they made a mistake...”
“Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret...”
So, it’s official guys: the world has become a Stephen King novel. We’re dealing with a worldwide pandemic like The Stand, and we’re all quarantined like The Shining. It’s kinda bizarre.
So how did yours truly deal with the news of the impending apocalypse?
I packed my bags and headed to New Orleans with my pals.
No, I wasn’t one of the people taking advantage of $30 flights a week out... we had booked this trip months ago, and the warnings were not as dire even early last week. But I will say, if the world is ending, I want to be in NOLA when it happens. Frosty drink, po boy... mama will be feeling no pain.
And now I’m back home, drinking lemon water and trying to heal my liver after all the damage that was done last week. Oh, in the midst of all the debauchery, I managed to finish two Steve books. The first one was Pet Sematary; which was kind of ironic, considering one of our NOLA adventures was a cemetery tour. Here for your viewing pleasure is Nicholas Cage’s future place of burial. Rich people, am I right?
But while at the cemetery, we met a few charming Constant Readers from Bangor! They mentioned seeing Steve just a few weeks ago at the grocery store. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Bangor, I would have less than zero chill. But our new friends from Maine were lovely to talk to.
On the surface, Pet Sematary is the story of the Creed family moving to Ludlow, Maine. Louis got a new job working at the university medical center, and his wife Rachel is down for the adventure. They have two kids, the precocious Ellie, and baby Gage (ugh. Even that name); and their cat Churchill. Upon their arrival in Ludlow, they meet their new neighbors: Jud and Norma Crandall. The Crandalls are a little older, but take to the Creed crew right away.
Ludlow seems like a nice place. According to Jud, rabies seems like the biggest issue plaguing the entire state of Maine. “Lots of rabies in Maine now. There was a big old St. Bernard went rabid downstate a couple of years ago and killed four people. That was a hell of a thing...”
My post-it note for this page reads, “Cujo, bitches!”
One afternoon, Jud takes the family on a hike, and shows them the old pet sematary right near their property. Later on at home, Rachel loses her shit. She doesn’t think children should be exposed to death, and it leads to a big ass fight. Louis is a doctor, and doesn’t think children should be sheltered from death. If they’re old enough to understand how babies are made, they’re old enough to understand how death works. But Rachel has some PTSD over the childhood death of her sister Zelda, and she’s never dealt with it. So her strategy is to brush the entire topic under the rug. At one point she tells Louis, “There’s nothing natural about death. Nothing. You as a doctor should know that.”
Rachel, girl. Death is just about as natural as it gets.
Thanksgiving rolls around, and Rachel takes the kids to see her asshole parents in Chicago, leaving Louis at home... where Churchill the cat ends up smooshed by an eighteen wheeler. Jud decides to take Louis on a little adventure, and shows him the burial ground behind the pet sematary, where whatever you bury comes back to life.
I know. It’s a reallllly bad idea. Have these people not seen Practical Magic? Do they not understand how bringing back the dead never works out? Ugh. Idiots.
Sidenote: if you haven’t seen Practical Magic, take advantage of quarantine time and go watch it. It’s late 1990′s Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, and it’s basically the story of me and my sister. Kind of, but not really.
So, Churchill comes back, but smellier and creepier; and it has Louis wondering why he brought him back from the dead in the first place. Even Ellie isn’t digging the new Church, and tells Louis she thinks she’ll be okay when he dies for good. So, mission accomplished? We’ll just refer to that as the weirdest damn parenting hack ever.
Life continues on, until the horrible day when Gage is playing outside with Louis, and also gets smooshed by an eighteen wheeler. It’s a horrible tragedy, and the family is broken. Rachel is inconsolable, Ellie clutches a Polaroid of her and Gage, and Louis can’t make sense of the tragedy. But you already know what he’s thinking...
After the funeral, he sends Rachel and Ellie back to Chicago with Rachel’s (still) asshole parents; and begins the arduous process of burying Gage at the burial grounds. He knows better... he saw first hand what happened to Church after his resurrection. But he’s undeterred. He had visions of Gage becoming an Olympic swimmer, and will stop at nothing to bring his son back.
Spoiler: it’s a shit show. Gage comes back from the burial grounds, swipes a knife from Louis’s doctor bag and kills Jud with it. He didn’t just come back a little smelly, or a little different... he came back as a Chucky doll. Back when Chucky was evil, before he became a comedic foil.
Meanwhile in Chicago, Ellie is losing her shit, and having horrible premonitions that things are going terribly wrong in Ludlow. She finally convinces Rachel to go back home. Rachel knows something is wrong, but has no idea what Louis is really up to. I’m guaranteeing, “digging up dead son’s body, hauling it across town in the car, lugging it up to the burial ground, and waiting for him to come back to life” wasn’t in her top ten concerns.
As she’s driving, she is trying her damnedest to stay awake, and sees a sign for one of our favorite towns in Maine, “Jerusalem’s Lot, she thought randomly, what an odd name. Not a pleasant name, for some reason... Come and sleep in Jerusalem.”
Rachel gets home, and makes her way over to Jud’s house, where she finds his dead body, and is then killed by Gage, pretending to be her crazy, dead sister. Louis is forced to kill Gage, and then he buries Rachel up on the burial ground as well. The final lines of the book are, “A cold hand fell on Louis’s shoulder. Rachel’s voice was grating, full of dirt. Darling, it said.”
Meh. A mediocre ending to a decent book. I was curious why Louis brought Rachel back to life... he saw how terribly wrong it went with both Church and Gage... was he waiting for Rachel to kill him? Was he hoping that since he buried her sooner than Gage, she’d be more of a “normal zombie?” Unclear.
But one thing is clear: I need to read The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. It’s been referenced at least a million times up until this point, and I have no excuses now that I’m living the quarantined life.
While the book was fine, I did think the topic of handling death with children was still relevant. It’s about as controversial a topic as it gets. Do we discuss it with children, or give them the line about pets/grandparents/old people moving to a farm and living there forever? How do we explain the afterlife? Where do people go when they die? A lot of times, adults don’t have good answers to these questions, and they don’t know how to communicate this uncertainty to children. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting children know adults don’t have all the answers. We don’t know what happens when someone dies, and won’t know until we die ourselves. In my experience, kids kinda like knowing you don’t have all the answers either, but you’ll be there as a sounding board, and a safe place for them to confide their fears. Honest conversations like this could have been helpful for Rachel, and prevented this whole story from happening in the first place. Maybe?
I don’t know.
We did have one Dark Tower reference, “No more did he walk like a gunslinger; now his walk was the slow, careful walk of the convalescent...”
And later on, Ellie thinks Church smells like, “ka-ka...” I can’t imagine it was ka for Church to get smooshed by a truck and brought back to life, but who the hell knows. I guess we all have a foggy, but bigger purpose.
Total Wisconsin Mentions: 14
Total Dark Tower References: 10
Book Grade: C+
Rebecca’s Definitive Ranking of Stephen King Books
Different Seasons: A+
The Shining: A-
The Stand: A-
The Dead Zone: B+
‘Salem’s Lot: B+
Danse Macabre: B-
The Gunslinger: C+
Pet Sematary: C+
Next up is Cycle of the Werewolf, which I have some thoughts about...
Until next time, Long Days and Pleasant Nights,
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