What I’m Reading: Cujo by Stephen King

The last of my holiday queue-skippers, I finished started and finished Cujo over the course of two flights: New Orleans to Minneapolis, and then Minneapolis to Seattle.

Go grab something to drink, I’ve got a lot to say.

Cujo is one of those stories that has a lot of side-stories hiding in it. While it’s ostensibly about Cujo, a loveable St. Bernard, and his descent into rabidity, King manages to squeeze in several subplots, the two most major being about adultery in a suburban home, and the poor’s envy of the upper-middle class respectively. Frankly, I found the subplots more interesting than the climactic standoff between rabid dog and mother that occupies over a hundred pages of this over 300 page novel.

Characters, strong and well-rounded for the most part. Every scene’s tense, even the scenes where no notable action occurs. I found myself annoyed by the third-person omniscient viewpoint; as a reader, I prefer anchoring solidly to one character in each scene, whoever the author chooses, so long as one’s chosen.

Cutaways to Vic Trenton’s business trip, done while Donna’s trapped in the car with Tad, and the cutaways to Joe’s wife and son, Charity and Brett, were what annoyed me most though! I understand why King’s doing it, to amp up the suspense, to have us scream “what about the poor woman and her kid”, to, frankly, troll us, but it stops working and just gets exhausting by page 240.

I’ll admit I had trouble getting into this book. I had trouble reading through scenes that on the surface had little to do with the story of Cujo. But I trusted King’s authorial talent, and that paid off. All the scenes are worth inclusion in the novel, and after a time, I puzzled out why, in one word: relevance. Every scene, even the cutaways to Vic had relevance. And all of the scenes, if you gave them a chance, were fun reading in their own right.

Another device King uses, a sort of character’s life thus far montage, delivered right upon introducing Gary Pervier, or to fill us in to Vic’s cereal dilemma used to bring us up to speed on hubby’s dilemma, also bothered me at first.
(Why can’t we have this in scene?)
Of course, King knew his business better than I did. The simple reason, not wasting ten pages explaining in scene what a cleverly written bit of summary will do in one, prevailed. That got the fun stuff to us faster, and the character study summaries gave us lightning context for characters we’re unlikely to give a shit about from anything they do on-screen before they become an endangered species.
(After what I saw on-screen, I wanted Joe Camber and Gary Pervier to die.)
Point. Should I feel bad? Probably, but I don’t.

Speaking of feeling bad, one scene above all forced the realization upon me that I’m a horrible person. When Donna’s ex-lover breaks into her and Vic’s house and wrecks the place in a blindingly transparent metaphor for what adultery does to married life, I couldn’t help but find the whole thing a little bit humorous. Is this supposed to be funny?

I mean, he scribbles “I LEFT SOMETHING UPSTAIRS FOR YOU, BABE”, dashes up the stairs and in three quick strokes leaves a mess on her pillow, I just had to assume it was comedy. The description of the act, the man’s state of arousal, the zipper freeing loose, the way his arm strains, is there a need for all that? I laughed so hard the passenger next to me wondered what could possibly be so funny in a Stephen King novel.

“I’m a horrible person, that’s all,” I managed in reply.

Seriously Mr. King, thanks for embarrassing me in front of a complete stranger. No way would I explain to her what was so funny. No way. But then, despite my mocking snickers, I imagined Vic coming home from the trip, exhausted, and missing the wreckage downstairs. He goes up to lay down in that pillow and shlop.
(Is that hair gel?)

Now that’s horror right there, I thought, that’s scarier than a big ol’ rabid St. Barnard. I checked my pillow before I slept that night, and again the night after that.

Speaking of Donna’s ex-lover, Stephen King does well with him. The guy’s a pretentious douche, the exact sort of anti-establishment “creative” that I’m terrified I’ll one day discover is myself. He’s the “Yeah, me too” coffee shop snot that Lewis C.K. mocks. And yet he’s just so goddam real.

Bad parts.

Well, it drags in spots, and Stephen King is looking to troll you with his cutaways mid face off. Yeah, the bad part would be the faceoff between Cujo and Donna. I really hated it, but hear me out, because it’s not King’s fault!

If Mom and childhood Greg were trapped in a car by a rabid dog, you can bet Mom would have 1) had a weapon, at least a tire iron, in the car 2) been ready to use it, or 3) used her damn fists and teeth against that stupid mutt for threatening her damn kid.

It’s not fair to Donna that my mom’s a farm-grown badass; tough, self-reliant, used to keeping up with, or better yet, mocking the menfolk as her dust lets them hide their shamefaced sadness. My mom called appendicitis ‘a bit painful’, and the doctor only caught it because she went in for something else. My mom would be a Chuck Norris joke, except my mom’s no fucking joke, she’s the hard granite of the Willapa Hills given lady-form and sent down WA-6 to Olympia to remind all of goddam Washington that tall tales live.

Donna is not my mom. She knows less about dogs than my mom would, less about how to handle country isolation. She’s a soft, egotistical city girl, stuck out all alone with her son, and 200 lbs. of foaming Cujo at her window. And like I said, she’s not my mom. She’s not even Mierin from Snowraven, or gender-bender Liam Neeson. She’s a non-combatant. A freaking muggle.

And so I get it. It’s not the sort of thing I’d prefer to read about, impotence in the face of danger, but I get it.

Overall, I give Cujo an 8/10. It’s a great page-turner, but the subject matter just isn’t my thing. Different strokes.

Dammit, strokes, now I’m thinking of that douchey wank-and-run vandal. Thanks for that, Stephen King.

“You’re welcome, Greg.”

I… I don’t think I’m gonna be able to sleep tonight. At least not on a pillow.

Get Cujo here.

3 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: Cujo by Stephen King

  1. I will have admit that I am a new Stephen King fan. My husband if a big fan and finally convinced me to read The Long Walk- and it was amazing. I have read a few other things by him, but I have found that I can’t handle horror very well. But he is amazing. 🙂

    1. I’m definitely with you on this. I’m not big on horror. I have trouble empathizing with protagonists that have no control of the situation. Or maybe I empathize too much, and it’s too real. But King’s writing style is really impressive. 🙂

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