There are some authors you ‘discover’ as you grow older, as you read more about reading, meet more people and in general as you broaden your horizons. And there are some whom you’ve always known of but you still ‘discover’ their work at a later point of time. Stephen King is one of the latter category of authors. I remember this even from when I was younger – much much younger – as I waddled (I assume) to Shri Gajanan Circulating Library as a 7 year old to grab my Enid Blyton’s or a few years later when I gravitated to the mysterious Franklin W. Dixon & Carolyn Kleene – Stephen King’s works would always be there in those bookshelves, within reach and seemingly worn out. Why then I never thought (or dared) of picking them up over the last 2 decades I do not know. I explain it in recent times with a rationalisation – since I seem to have developed an aversion of sorts to the horror genre – whether it is books or movies. But before that I have no logical answer – it just seems to be ‘one of those things that can’t be explained’.
Pet Sematery, my first Stephen King has a few ‘things that can’t be explained’. But it’s an enthralling and captivating read above all because it does start of trying to explain. Lois Creed – the protagonist – is a skeptic like every intelligent reader would like to be, explaining away mysterious occurrences and rationalising every experience that he can seem to for as long as seems humanly and logically possible. And even his descent into the murky world of magic and powers he can’t control is made extremely relatable – something which I can and I’m sure you can, believe happening to you. It has battles in the mind and decisions that don’t make sense but you know that maybe, just maybe in that kind of situation you may have taken that kind of call yourself. Or maybe you’re too chicken to do so but you could certainly empathize with someone who did take that kind of call.
Alas, I get ahead of myself. It took a chance comment on a Facebook group, a second-hand bookseller on Amazon who gives away wonderful books at throwaway prices and a quick Google search for me to pick up Pet Sematery and then actually pick it up to read it as well. One of the reasons was to explore newer authors and territories in this endeavor over 2016, which is why I did not pick up the DI Rebus work lying besides this. Another reason was to attempt to find out if a fear of fear existed with the general unwillingness to go towards this genre or was it just basic Resistance to Change 101. I started reading this on a flight where I should have by all means been sleepy, but I didn’t feel so once I started reading this. And then over a busy 4 or 5 days – time was squeezed in while travelling, in the wee hours of the night after everyone has gone to sleep and when logic tells you it’s not a good time to read spooky tales, and one particularly delightful session with a vista I would like to believe I will always cherish and relish.
King is a master of creating an atmosphere and the initial part of the book certainly takes it’s time doing so. Atmosphere isn’t quite the perfect translation of what I want to say, although it’s probably the closest – the Hindi word mahaul seems to have more subtle undertones around it which convey the idea. The beginning is as idyllic as the blurb on the back would tell you – picture perfect American family, lovely country house by the woods, a seemingly friendly old couple across the street – you’d be forgiven for expecting some more cliches to come pouring out of the pages that follow. But there aren’t – he takes his time creating this utopia, opening up the characters incident by incident, chapter by chapter of differing size. And so we learn about the eponymous pet cemetery, Lois’ world at work, his wife’s fears and backgrounds, the undercurrent of tension in the extended family, the fears of a young girl, the simple joy of a father flying a kite with a son and the history of this small-town – all unveiled bit by bit.
I could realize why this is an author who is oh-so-successful, King has a way with words to convey the most complex of thoughts by breaking them down into the easiest to comprehend pieces. And also a talent for knowing when to release some information to keep you well and truly hooked – something that mirrors what TV novellas and series look to do with their still-to-come’s but in an almost casual manner. And an imagination bar none – to be able to pick up from real life incidents as he’s mentioned in interviews, do what I’m sure was extensive research and on folklore and customs and then mix and match the two together. There were parts where I found the descriptions too detailed – especially the exhumation scene – where I would constantly be skimming through the pages, only to catch myself and with a reproach read it properly – where perhaps crisper editing could’ve helped. But it’s a minor quibble, maybe more to do with an incorrect self-assessment of my own patience levels and which could have led to a lesser mahaul. It also was a nice flashback to a life without omnipresent mobile phones, cameras and computers – without which certainly this tale would not have been possible – along with a Norman Rockwell-ish portrait of 1980’s Americana.
Mid-way through the book you kind of figure out what’s going to happen in the second half and you put two plus two together. A pet cemetery that brings pet’s back from the dead and a dead human being – you know what’s coming. But there is a masterful pulling of the strings to try to get you to side with Lois although you know you shouldn’t be and this can’t end well. And the third part (which is hardly a part) but which will give you the goosebumps that you knew were prickling up.
Pet Sematery has convinced me to accord more respect to the category or genre as a whole. Mr. Stephen King, I will definitely be back.
Entertainment Quotient : ★★★★★
Education Quotient : ★★★★★
Readability : ★★★★