I am on a Stephen King marathon it seems.
Unlike Pet Sematary, I did not remember Cujo the movie. I knew the basic premise. So it was about a rabid Saint Bernard dog wrecking havoc. The earlier book gave me a nice glimpse into King’s writing technique – that his novels weren’t just your run of the mill horror story, but they provided a unique point of view, a subjective analysis of human psyche and character that was often very sad and cruel. In Cujo, King is in his familiarity, and the story is again in Maine, where he lived a great deal. Castle Rock was a quiet neighborhood, so close yet so away from the business of New York or Boston or other big cities. Life here was on a different tone, often rolling off to borderline out of sync with the civilization that ran on steroids. Hence the story of a rabid dog that may have been a normal story in the cities turns out to be a vicious chapter in the town’s history.
Stephen King was in the peak of his drunken-abusiveness when he wrote Cujo, and he has largely admitted that he doesn’t remember the book. I think that factored in building the bleak spine of the story, a rigmarole that is relationship – be it between a married couple, or between parents and kids, or even between a child and a dog, and between a dog and his keepers, represented here with excruciating detail. It is beautifully summated in the ending quotes where King narrates:
“It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.”
Indeed free will forms a great part of this story. A woman’s free will to speak up against an abusive marriage, another’s free will to choose her path amidst a tumbling relationship and the mid life crisis – to a man’s free will to save a marriage, to a vindictive ejaculation of another man in a fit of rage, ending up to the dog’s fate of being a slave to the will of a disease, an abomination that took control of him, the mind’s forces are characters of their own in Cujo. Stephen King goes one up when he introduces Cujo as a perspective and not a third-person character, something that completely changes the way the novel reads, and it is fantastic. The gradual degeneration of his mind is almost as deplorable as the crumbling relationships around him, and the fogginess in his brain, the sharp pains in his mind and body, the slow, screaming death of his self-conscience except the blurry notions of MAN, WOMAN and BOY are eerily similar to the blurred lines of a human mind as it struggles to distinguish good from the bad. The ending is hence not surprising at all, knowing King would have liked it to end it that way, and it shows in a way that the dog was just at a bad place at a bad time, just like the Trentons, just like the Cambers, just like Sheriff Bannermann.
So this is a sad story, but why does it rank as horror? Writhing inside the story of a dog gone bad is the unnerving undertale of a monster, something that lurks inside a kid’s closet, often manifesting itself with glowing eyes piercing through the clot of darkness, prying open the door ever so slightly. Is it the dementia that was brought by Frank Dodd the serial killer? Did he never die? King never really divulges into that, and his intentional omission gives Cujo the novel a supernatural chill that elevates it from a regular tale of a rabid dog rampaging around a quiet town.
In the end, Cujo is a read that requires a little patience since it takes time to enter the world of Castle Rock. Once you enter, there is no turning back. The second half is a rabid page-turner (no pun intended). Stephen King’s Cujo is at its best when the Saint Bernard is on its paws, lunging at unsuspecting human beings, tearing them apart. It is also at is worst when Cujo is on his paws, lumbering around like a lifeless husk, too fragmented, too hurt to think, too restless to die. In a way Cujo represents excessive alcoholism of King, a story returned from the otherwise inaccessible, fucked up places in the corner of his mind.