24 October 2012


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 18

What a great choice Pet Sematary has turned out to be for Burial Grounds month! There are as many final resting places here as in all the month's Locus Focus posts (so far) combined! More, if you count the tomb of Lazarus, which is featured in two epigraphs and the thoughts of a couple of characters.

"God can take it back if he wants to," Ellie said. "He can do anything He wants to."

"Ellie, God doesn't do things like that," Louis said uneasily, and in his mind's eye he saw Church squatting on the closed lid of the toilet, staring at him with those muddy eyes as Louis lay in the tub.

"He does so," she said. "In Sunday school, the teacher told us about this guy Lazarus. He was dead and Jesus brought him back to life. He said, 'Lazarus, come forth,' and the teacher said if he'd just said 'Come forth,' probably everyone in that graveyard, and Jesus only wanted Lazarus."

An absurdity popped out of his mouth . . . "That was a long time ago, Ellie."

I really love Ellie Creed. If I don't write about her that much in these readalong posts, it's because I'm saving my thoughts for a Character Connection special.

Chapters 36 to 45

Is Louis useless or what? I feel a little bad judging him so harshly this soon after the death of his son . . . but he is totally worthless at comforting his family. Whether he is withholding an embrace from his wife when she cries or sending her and their daughter away right after the funeral, he is simply doing nothing right. This may seem like an odd thing to say right when he is taking incredible steps to resurrect Gage and to restore him to a grieving mother and sister--but let's not call those steps an attempt at comfort. Louis is a master at rationalisation, but we don't have to give him a run for his money.

The very first time we meet Louis Creed, he is already struggling between sticking with reality and escaping into fantasy. His wife and children have been driving him crazy throughout their road trip, and he is nursing a vision of abandoning them all at the side of the road and becoming a medic at Disney World under another identity. (LOL!) Anyone who has ever been in a similar situation knows this is normal--as is reality's victory when Louis completes the trip with his family intact and contentment with his life renewed. But that was back then, and now Louis is facing another temptation to run away to Disney World, this time with his entire family, leaving behind everyone who knows that Gage shouldn't still be walking around.

This struggle between reality and fantasy reminds me of another Stephen King novel, the first to scare the bloody hell out of me: Needful Things. It's about a shop where you can buy your heart's secret desire. For a few characters, that desire is not so much a product as a different version of reality. And it makes sense that the Prince of Lies would try to make you barter your soul for a fantasy. Apparently, he is behind the Micmac burying ground as well--and he fluently uses the language of Louis's dreams to persuade the distraught father to play this other, older game.

Remember that a few weeks ago I thought Ellie had "come home wrong" from the pet cemetery because she was so traumatised? Well, she's all better now, and is probably the most functional person in her family although she is only six years old. So my initial instinct--as guided by King's writing--was correct: the pet cemetery is a healthy, wholesome place. Ellie came back right. It is those who go to the burial ground beyond the pet cemetery who come back wrong.

(I'm still all about taboos.)

Jud is right to be worried--and to feel guilty. But he makes me wonder whether even those who try to work against the Micmac burying ground's influence unwittingly dance to its tune anyway. Who else thinks that the story of Timmy Baterman, intended as the ultimate warning, was exactly what was needed to push Louis over the edge?

The Micmac burying ground does seem almost omnipotent--its reach extending even to those who presumably have never been there. The truck driver who killed Gage says he just felt a mighty compulsion "to put the pedal to the metal" when he hit the road in front of the Creeds' home. Until this point, his record had been clean.

But who says the burying ground is the only culprit? One enormous web of malice must lie over the world, the different forces simply overlapping in crucial areas. The driver may be an extra here, but he is the star of his own tragedy.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 28 to 35?

1. Do you think that those who inter a body in the Micmac burying grounds are forever under its influence, whether they want to be or not?
2. What do you think of the recasting of "Good vs. Evil" as "Reality vs. Fantasy"?
3. Without revealing (too many) spoilers, which other Stephen King novel does Pet Sematary tend to remind you of?

Image Sources: a) Pet Sematary by Stephen King, b) Needful Things


Angie Tusa said...

1. King certainly wants us to think so. :)

2. It doesn't entirely match up. In the book itself, I wouldn't say that Gage's death was Good even if the fantasy Louis is entertaining certainly has roots in Wrong if not straight out Evil. And even though we know the Micmac burying ground itself is evil, Louis' intentions are not evil as much as they are misguided.

This is the part of the book that really changed for me when I read it as an adult vs. when I read it as a teen. Back then I thought Louis was being very stupid here - he absolutely reviles Church and yet he's considering burying his son in the same place?! But now while I still think he's wrong, I understand just how powerful the feeling of grief is and the guilt Louis is feeling wishing he could have possibly saved his son in time. So while I still feel like it's a very bad decision on his part to even consider it, I can certainly understand why he does.

3. King's style is so distinct that I could probably draw parallels to a lot of them if I sat down and thought about it. But I think it's interesting that this book shares something in common with the other book you almost chose - The Shining. Both feature a father who is pulled emotionally away from his wife and child by an external malevolent force that possesses a specific setting.

Enbrethiliel said...


1. I agree! And I think it makes sense--not just in the context of this story but in life. One expression that has been coming to mind again and again for me is "You don't have to put your hand in a bucket of tar to know it's black." Of course, you can put your hand in anyway . . . but then the tar--well, this sort of tar--will probably be on you for the rest of your life. Jud's father is probably the only character who knows how evil the Micmac burying grounds from secondhand experience rather than an "initiation." Lucky guy.

2. You're right that Gage's death isn't Good at all. I meant to focus on the characters' responses to it. By "reality" I meant accepting Gage's death, as opposed to the "fantasy" that a resurrected Gage would be preferable to a dead Gage.

While I wouldn't call Louis evil (Your term Wrong is probably right, if you take my meaning), I don't want to let him off the hook too much either, because he clearly knows that what he is doing is wrong and is rationalising his actions with all his might.

3. What a fantastic point about The Shining! I'll get to it someday, for sure, and I'll definitely remember that!

What you said about drawing parallels throughout King's bibliography made me wonder about the last King novel I read: Christine. And sure enough, it also has the story of a man pulled emotionally away from his wife and child by an external malevolent force . . . in a car! =P But the car works as both a setting and another character.