AUTHOR: STEPHEN KING
PUBLISHER: WARNER BOOKS
GENRE: HORROR FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
BLURB FROM THE BACK COVER
Cujo is a two-hundred pound Saint Bernard, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. Then Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolthole – a cave inhabited by some very sick bats. What happens next, how Cujo becomes a horrifying vortex, inexorably drawing in all the people around him, makes for one of Stephen King’s most terrifying, heart-stopping novels yet…
The plot of Cujo sounds like the worst sort of crass, low budget horror movie. A dog gets bitten by an infected bat, get rabies and goes on a killing spree that last four days.
In a less skilled writer than King, Cujo would be the worst kind of crass, pulpy horror. Something befitting of Frank D Felitta or John Saul. I know both of these writers have fans but I think they represent the rancid turd of fiction.
King makes it work because of his skill and talent as a writer.
Cujo isn’t about a rabid dog that kills four people including its owner. Cujo is about the characters and what King puts them through. The rabid dog is just the back-drop.
Donna Trenton’s marriage is in trouble when her husband Viv, finds out she’s been having an affair with the local stud. Their four year old son senses friction between them. Donna and Tad become trapped in their broken down car by the dog. Donna wonders if the dog’s been sent to punish her for her infidelity.
Vic’s marital problems are the least of his worries. His business, an advertising agency he runs with his best friend is facing financial ruin because of a scandal connected to their biggest client. When Donna is reported as missing he believes her jilted lover kidnapped her and Tad. When he finds out his wife’s caught rabies from Cujo and his son’s dead he blame himself. If he hadn’t been so certain her lover was behind it he might have got to them when Tad was still alive.
Brett Camber, the teenage boy who owns Cujo goes with his mother Charity to visit her sister and her family. He feels uneasy because he knows Cujo is sick. He saw the dog before the rabies fully took hold. He has a frightening dream about Cujo. He’s heartbroken when his father is killed by Cujo and his beloved dog is taken from him.
Charity Chamber has problems of her own. She’s afraid Brett will grow up to be a small town asshole like his father Joe. She contemplates leaving Jo before he can become too much of an influence on their son. She wins $5,000 on the lottery but knows it’s not enough to get away from Jo. Brett told her Cujo was sick but she did nothing because she was afraid Jo would stop her visiting her sister. When Jo is killed by the dog she feels happy the choice to stay with him or get a divorce has been taken from her.
Cujo is one of my favourite King novels. I love all the little sub plots in it. I couldn’t have enjoyed reading 300+ pages if the novel had been about nothing more than the rabid dog. I love the links and references to other novels by King that would be missed by a non-fan.
The structure of Cujo is quite unusual for King. Cujo isn’t split into chapters but rather little fragments that deal with main plot (the rabid dog) and the little sub plots including a few sections from Cujo’s point of view as the rabies goes to work on him.
I’m not a fan of non-linear narratives as a general rule. I’ve read a few that have made no sense. King makes this work however. One fragment might focus on Donna’s affair coming to light, the next one with Cujo being bit by the bat, the next one with Charity Camber winning the lottery and so on and so forth.
Cujo is frightening because it’s so realistic. It’s not a novel about vampires and monsters we all know aren’t real. It could happen. Dogs can get rabies. If a 200 pound dog like Cujo got rabies it could easily kill a person.
I actually cried at the end of Cujo when Tad died and Donna got rabies and had to get treatment for it and Charity gets Brett a new puppy to try and replace Cujo and Cujo’s head is cut off his body and sent to a lab to confirm rabies. It was so damn sad.
King got a lot of criticism because Tad dies at the end. This was incredibly sad but didn’t have a negative impact on my enjoyment of Cujo. King is quoted as saying he chose this ending because he wanted to be realistic and kids sometimes die. I agree.
King makes it clear long before the end Tad isn’t going to be okay. He’s dehydrated and hungry and has started to have seizures because there’s no air-conditioning in the car. I felt his death is the only realistic outcome. Tad lives in the movie and it’s a crass, unrealistic ending.
THE OPENING LINE
ONCE UPON A TIME, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine…
Cujo is a great novel. King takes the plot of what could be the worst kind of trash and turns it into something disturbing, powerful and quite poignant.