And I finished it in bed. In the dark. At 11 p.m. Which was a mistake. Sleep? That’s where nightmares live.
Everyone has their own opinion on which of King’s books is his scariest. Some think it’s ‘Salem’s Lot, while others believe it’s The Shining or IT. While I have yet to read The Shining, I so far agree with anyone who says that Pet Sematary is King at his most terrifying. IT was philosophically scary, ‘Salem’s Lot was psychologically disturbing, but this book was frightening on a visceral level. Because what is scarier to the human psyche than death? According to this book, the answer to that question is circumventing death and coming out of the grave as something other, something wrong.
This is a very hard book to review without spoiling anything, but I’m going to be as vague as possible. Around a third of the way through the novel, readers have a fair amount of certainty regarding what’s going to happen, because King has left plenty of clues in earlier pages. Some people think that this is King’s greatest weakness, his need to give things away before they happen. I honestly think it’s a strength, because he gives dread ample opportunity to make itself known and fester in readers’ minds, making the outcome somehow more terrible because we see it coming from a mile away. King’s books are like train wrecks in that you can’t look away, but their like a train wreck that you knew was going to happen for days beforehand with no way to stop said wreck. That foreknowledge, in my opinion, makes for a much more disturbing experience because the impending sense of dread builds on itself.
The Creed family has just moved to a small town in Maine, where Louis will be the local college’s campus physician. The house they move into is sprawling and lovely, if a bit run down, and they have incredibly kind neighbors. Jud, one of said kind neighbors, brings the family up the path behind their new home to see Pet Sematary, where local kids bring their dearly departed pets to give them a proper burial. But beyond this sweet cemetery is another, much darker and less sweet. And in this ancient burial ground, the residents don’t stay dead.
Something that man has to learn time and again, at least in fiction, is that death is not to be trifled with. The only being in the universe with power over the grave is God, and people who try to claim that power for themselves always end up regretting it. I think this is such a major theme in literature because, if we were given the opportunity to cheat death, many of us wouldn’t be able to help ourselves; the stories we tell ourselves are often cautioning us against things that tempt us seemingly beyond our power to ignore.
This also played on one of the tropes that I find the most terrifying: killer kids. Nothing is scarier to me than a toddler on a murder spree, and this book fed that fear so much. Too much. There’s just something about the face of innocence contorted by evil that is horrifying to compute.
If you’re looking to be scared out of your mind, this is a book that will definitely deliver the fear you seek.