Pet Sematary Review - Dead is Better
by Stephen King
Published in 1983
I have always had a love hate relationship with Stephen King’s novels. For someone with such a huge repertoire of books, not every book can be the one that knocks the ball out of the ballpark. His works like It and The Green Mile are incredible while other ones like Under the Dome are confusing. So anytime I open up a Stephen King novel I never know what to expect. However, within a few pages into reading Pet Sematary I knew I was going to be reading one of his scariest novels yet. With the movie coming out April 5, 2019, I knew I had to get my read on so I could be one of the first in the theaters!
Pet Sematary begins in Stephen King’s favorite state, Maine. Louis Creed moves into a new home in Ludlow with his wife Rachel, children Ellie and Gage, and house cat Church. Immediately, Gage and Ellie get hurt within a few days of arriving when Jud from across the street visits and warns them of the highway near their home. Jud and Louis become friends, often spending time drinking beers as Louis gets to know Jud better. The family quickly discovers a path behind their house which leads them to a strange grave site with signs of beloved family pets from different years prior, also known as, the pet sematary. With Ellie and Gage not having any previous experience with death until this moment, this causes a fight between Rachel and Louis as Rachel thinks the children should be protected while Louis thinks they should understand this is a normal part of life.
Rachel takes Gage and Ellie to see her parents, leaving Louis behind. Jud finds Louis and brings him to the highway where Church is dead after being hit by a truck. Louis is terrified to tell them of Church’s death until Jud tells him to bury the dead cat in the pet sematary and not say a word until the next day. As strange as Louis finds this, he follows direction and the next day finds Church has returned home… but not quite the same. He has dried blood streaks, bits of plastic from the bag he was buried in, and smells like dirt and death. He also is clumsy and strange and this is enough for Louis to go to Jud. Jud informs him that he too once had a dog who died and was brought back to life after being buried in the Pet Sematary. This was once an Indian burial ground of the Micmac tribe and has had a history of bringing things back to life. Most of them come back different, not evil, but just not as their former self. Jud tells him he wanted him to see this for himself so he can understand “sometimes dead is better”.
Rachel, Ellie, and Gage return and notice the weird smell and that Church is acting strangely but they don’t suspect anything else. Church begins killing mice and birds and bringing it into the house. Later, Jud’s wife dies and everyone assists in the funeral. Louis asks if he considered burying her in the pet sematary but Jud tells him that would be an abomination. Louis thinks nothing of this until several months later when Gage is killed by a speeding truck after running into the street. Rachel and Louis are overcome with grief at the death of their son. Jud confronts Louis when he realizes that Louis wants Gage back - no matter how it happens. Jud tells him of the only time he had seen someone bury their son in the pet sematary and informs him that he came back as something evil and what is dead should stay dead. Louis thinks about this but decides he would rather have his son back, no matter the cost. He sends Rachel and Ellie to her parents and then breaks into the cemetery his son is buried in and digs up his body. He buries the body in the pet sematary and returns home and goes to bed.
After having terrible premonitions and Ellie having nightmares about Louis and Gage, Rachel decides to return home as she’s afraid something could be happening to Louis. Jud decides to wait for her to explain everything Louis has been hiding so she could talk some sense into Louis. Before Rachel arrives, Gage returns from the dead, stealing one of his father’s syringes. Gage and Church go across the street and attack and kill Jud. Rachel arrives and finds Jud’s dead body before being killed by Gage. Louis wakes up the next morning with a terrible feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. He finds muddy toddler footsteps in his kitchen and decides to go to Jud’s to discover the dead bodies. He fights and kills Church and Gage and we finally think this is all over… until Louis burns the home save for Rachel’s body which gets buried in the Pet Sematary.
Final Rating & Thoughts: 10/10
This was one of my favorite Stephen King’s novels! I was honestly so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. About halfway through, I couldn’t put it down. Even though Pet Sematary was predictable in the sense that it was clearly leading up to bringing a loved one back from the dead, it was the painful anxiety of waiting for it to happen and seeing what would happen that gets you through the book. With the emphasis they were putting on Ellie, I thought she would be the one to die but I was shocked when it was sweet baby Gage instead. From the moment he was hit by the truck, I knew Louis would absolutely bury him in the Pet Sematary but I didn’t think he would go as far as breaking into the cemetery and digging his grave up. I also was expecting Gage to just come back to life and be like Church, clumsy and smelly and strange, but not dangerous. I should have also listened to Jud and believed that sometimes dead is better.
One of Stephen King’s biggest strength is his ability to build up characters and his tense, terrifying descriptions. From the moment I read Gage grabbing the syringe and crossing the street, my sense of dread was at an all time high! As I was turning each page, I was just in the corner mumbling “No, no, no, no, no!!!!” knowing that everything was going to fall apart. I am double recommending this book because this was a true horror novel! I always thought It was my favorite novel because really now an alien entity that can turn into your greatest fear and feeds on children is terrifying. However, I think Pet Sematary may be his scariest novel because he builds on your dread and fear from the beginning and lets your imagination run wild with the idea “Is dead really better?”. It is so easy to defeat an evil clown but could you defeat your own child? Inspired by a true event when his own son was hit by a truck, Stephen King wrote this with that same question in mind.
I loved this story. I loved every single component of the story. I loved each character and the history behind the burial ground. I also loved the terrible and terrifying Wendigo creature which briefly shows up when Louis buries his son Gage. I also LOVED the ending as I think it was just so perfectly fitting for this story. As Louis takes his wife’s corpse to bury in the pet sematary, his friend Steve catches him and instead of stopping him, feels drawn into the sematary and assists Louis in burying his wife, leading the reader to believe that Steve could be the next victim whose life is destroyed by the pet sematary like the many before him and the many after him. I love this conclusion because of all the stories Jud told Louis about past experiences with the Pet Sematary and I feel like it’s just such a perfect tie-in at the end. Overall, I will await Stephen King writing more stories about this Pet Sematary because I need to know who else it corrupts!