Did I tell you all that I was re-reading the works of Stephen King? I am. In order of publication, to be precise. There are my well-worn favorites that I read over and over – It, Insomnia, Rose Madder, Black House, and – of course – the Dark Tower series, which happens to be my favorite book/series of all time. Then there are what I think of as my midlist novels – the ones I liked pretty good at the time, but haven’t re-read all that often – the short story collections, Shawshank, Misery, 11/22/63, Bag of Bones… all decent, solid stories, but ones that seem to get pushed aside because I only have so much time you read, you understand. And then there are the novels that I’ve probably only ever read the once: Christine, Cycle of the Werewolf, Needful Things, The Dark Half. Why didn’t I like them? What was it that made me rank them so low? It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve read the books, in some case. Wouldn’t it be fun to go through and read them all?
Yes, yes it has been fun. Even when I confirmed what I thought the first go around, to have all the characters and settings and creeptastic details dancing in the forefront of my imagination again, I feel so grounded and so me again. It’s fantastic.
The latest horse on my deliciously creepy carousel is Cujo. Cujo is one of those cellar dwellers, a story that would never rank even as high as midlist, but all the same a story I’ve read more than once, though not even close to anytime recently – perhaps not since high school? Why? I like the voice. I love that it’s a return-to-Castle Rock book, I love that other recurring people and images come up – the mess from The Dead Zone, in particular. But still – Cujo is not a book I like. (And there are going to be spoilers in the whys of it, so turn back now if you don’t want to know.)
It’s not just that the ending wasn’t a happy one. There are plenty of less-than-happy, delightfully complicated endings that make me love them. But an unhappy ending to what feels like a gratuitous read? No. way. Then there really feels like there’s no point. Sure, King insists that he didn’t mean to kill Tad, that it just sort of happened that way – and I have to believe him. I’m not a writer, but I’ve written enough, and read enough stories, to know the truth about writing when I hear it. But just because it’s true doesn’t mean I need to like what’s being said.
Because after Tad’s gone, what’s the point? The whole book feels like an old, stodgy New England cautionary tale about cheating on your spouse. The Trentons move from New York City to Castle Rock, Donna’s unhappy, she has an affair that she later regrets and ends. Meanwhile, there’s some trouble with Vic’s ad agency, so he leaves town for damage control with a client. Donna takes Tad to have their car repaired at the edge-of-the-boonies mechanic and the rabid Cujo ramps up the climatic action. (Told you there’d be spoilers.) Oh – and did I mention that Cujo’s owners, the dad beats the mom and son. So. Not technically what we call cheating on your spouse, but not what I could call remaining faithful to your vows of love and faithfulness in spirit. And ta-da, we have our message: disrespect your vows, bad things happen. All bad things, no good things. Sure, there’s a reminder at the end that Cujo didn’t mean to do anyone any harm and that he always wanted to do right, but WHAT DID THAT GET US? Bupkus.
I’m glad I re-read Cujo, I love having the story fresh in my mind (even for all I don’t prefer it), but I can’t say I’ll be picking it up again for a pleasure whirl any time soon.