Once upon a time, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine… He was not a werewolf, vampire, ghoul, or unnameable creature from the enchanted forest or snow wastes; he was only a cop…
Cujo is a huge Saint Bernard dog, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. Then one day Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolt-hole. Except it isn’t a rabbit warren any more. It is a cave inhabited by rabid bats.
And Cujo falls sick. Very sick. And the gentle giant who once protected the family becomes a vortex of horror inexorably drawing in all the people around him…
Stephen King is considered by many critics to be the greatest storyteller of our time and I have to say that I’m generally in agreement with this. Despite sometimes coming up with the most bizarre storylines, his captivating style and grisly imagination always keeps me coming back for more. I’ve read several Stephen King-ers now so I was surprised when I stumbled across this one in the library – a book that I’d not only never read, but never even heard of. I dutifully took it home and began reading it straight away.
There’s not a great deal I can say about the plot without giving too much away, but in a nutshell it is a story about the drama that ensues when an otherwise loyal St Bernard dog belonging to a young boy contracts rabies. I don’t really know a lot about this disease but if King’s account is a realistic one, I know that I never want to meet a dog (or any other animal) with it, thanks very much. In typical King fashion there are a number of subplots and character analysations throughout the novel too. This is both fascinating and, at times, a little frustrating. I loved the way he fleshed out the characters of Brett and Charity Camber – a downtrodden mother trying desperately to show her innocent 10-year-old son another way of life before his ignorant, aggressive father influences his judgement. But these were main characters and I wanted to know about them. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was being given a two-page life/family history of a cop who only had a very fleeting part in the latter stages of the novel.
Despite this, King is a clever writer and used a variety of seemingly unconnected subplots to set up the prominent storyline and create suspense. He also crafts his writing to create a brilliant atmosphere and mood – he loves the Maine countryside (lots of his other novels are set in Maine) and he articulates the atmosphere of small-town life beautifully. His descriptions of Cujo’s developing disease and consequent attacks were typically vivid, gruesome and not for the faint hearted, but aside from the basic gore he also manages to create a chilling, supernatural feel despite this being one of his least ‘paranormal’ novels. Definitely not one that left me scared to turn the lights out, like Pet Sematary, but still pretty creepy.
The beauty of King is that he’s known for horror and gore but he’s also great at portraying and understanding human nature. I found the sections about Donna and Vic Trenton’s troubled relationship and Charity Cambers growing disillusionment about her life realistic, moving and a nice break from bloodthirsty horror.
I wouldn’t say this is one of King’s best novels. There were times when the story dragged a little and although it has (apparently) been made into a film, I certainly don’t think it’d ever be anything as successful as Carrie, The Shining or The Green Mile (can you imagine? It’d be like Beethoven on a rampage!) But it was still very readable and full of twists and turns with a shocking ending that left me thinking ‘surely he can’t do that!’ But then I remembered it’s Stephen King – he can do what he likes.