Aside from stories included in Night Shift, the first anthology of short stories that King published, i would argue that this is the first of his books that deals with the larger world that King is writing in.  By that, I mean that the first few pages of Cujo tie it back to The Dead Zone by mentioning Frank Dodd, the dead serial murderer that Johnny Smith identified.  Dodd is dead, but apparently still haunting the town, and apparently possessing a rabid dog.

I love the juxtaposition of the mundane with the supernatural.  One minute a person can be going about regular domestic duties, and the next they are experiencing a monster in a closet..  It is this very sort of thing that I liked about Twilight: vampire sitting calmly in the kitchen.  Sorry, Mr. King for comparing anything  of yours to Stephenie Meyer, however small the comparison is.

Though I hate the phrase, I must say that this novel was plotted like a boss.  Here’s how you do a thing: The dog is being a dog and chasing a rabbit.  He chases the rabbit and results in him getting bit by a bat who was rabid.  Poor Cujo, who was always a GOODDOG.  Add to this the fact that we have a malevolent spirit in Frank Dodd hanging around and fouling up the place, and you have the start of an interesting story.  I will admit, even now, to also being freaked by Tad’s closet.  They are freaky places, aren’t they?  And the monster words were just ingenious.  Parents have to have a certain amount of creativity.  My own mother’s version when I was scared of alligators coming to our house, was to tell me that we were safe because they were scared of baby powder.  It is laughably stupid, but I believed it until I was sixteen.

So we have our rabid dog out to get everyone, possessed by the malevolent spirit of Frank Dodd.  It takes about a third of the novel to get the real action going, but it is a set up, and is not wasted at all.  In the first few pages we hear of Donna Trenton’s trouble with the Pinto, and how they’d had great service from Joe Camber when they’d needed some work on their other car.  Great service, and reasonable prices.  Who can go wrong?  This will later ensure that when Donna gets out to the end of that road there will be no one there to help, and no way to escape because her car won’t start.  Of course, the Cambers need to be gone, so enter the lotto win and Charity’s successful persuasion of her husband to let her go visit her sister.  The husband tries to leave also, but of course he never does.  Donna’s husband is out of town dealing with his failing business, and the emotional upheaval that her affair caused.  That same affair has her in a fragile and doubtful place that leads her to tragic inaction once trapped at the Camber’s place.  Everything leads to everything else.  That’s how to plot.

Though not directly tied to The Shining or Firestarter, Brett Camber shares a moment with Danny and Charlie when he utters his sleepwalking phase about Cujo not being hungry anymore.  True, he is not telepathic like Danny, or pyrokinetic like Charlie, but if there is one thing that King’s early novels have shown (if not his later ones, because I’ve not read those yet and cannot really comment), kids have a lot of power.  Think of the kids in ‘It.’  And they have these almost magical abilities like telekinesis, helping to solidify the ideas that childhood is a magical time.

My world has moved on since then, but I read Cujo in my teen years.  I remember it being more disgusting than it was.  I suppose I’ve become inured to the graphics – especially after watching The Walking Dead.  In fact, I think that Tad’s death aside, the most disgusting thing was the usual suspect: the sometimes too vivid descriptions of bowl movements.  This and the word apotheosis are almost staples in King’s writing.  So much so, I almost expect to come across a line something like: “It was a shit, a great shit.  It was the apotheosis of shits.”

So I enjoyed Cujo as a study in circumstantial plotting.  I feel terrible for poor Cujo who wanted nothing more than to please his family, but was treated so ill by the disease and the demonic possessor that was Dodd.

One thought on “Cujo – Stephen King

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