I've been revisiting several of Stephen King's early works for a while now and I was curious to see how Cujo would hold up. The book is still good, but I don't feel as though it has aged that well compared to some of the author's other older titles. Probably because of the stay-at-home women. Yes, this was prevalent among lots of families during the 70s and the early 80s, but it does feel a little discordant now in 2024.

Interestingly enough, King barely remembers anything at all about writing Cujo. Indeed, the novel was written at the peak of his struggle with alcohol addiction. Still, for anyone looking for a shorter, more self-contained tale from the master of horror, this one remains a pretty good option.

Here's the blurb:

Outside a peaceful town in central Maine, a monster is waiting. Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. One day, Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave inhabited by sick bats and emerges as something new altogether.

Meanwhile, Vic and Donna Trenton, and their young son Tad, move to Maine. They are seeking peace and quiet, but life in this small town is not what it seems. As Tad tries to fend off the terror that comes to him at night from his bedroom closet, and as Vic and Donna face their own nightmare of a marriage on the rocks, there is no way they can know that a monster, infinitely sinister, waits in the daylight.

What happens to Cujo, how he becomes a horrifying vortex inescapably drawing in all the people around him, makes for one of the most heart-stopping novels Stephen King has ever written. “A genuine page-turner that grabs you and holds you and won’t let go” (Chattanooga Times), Cujo will forever change how you view man’s best friend.

The action takes place in and around the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Unlike many other of King's works, Cujo is not necessarily linked to other novels. At least not in any important ways. For the most part, allusions to Cujo refer to the incident of the summer of 1980 when a rabid Saint Bernard killed three people. I was pleased to find out that King's forthcoming collection, You Like It Darker, will contain a story titled "Rattlesnakes," which the author describes as a sequel to Cujo.

As is the case in many of King's early works, this novel features a family with a young child moving into town and trying to adapt to their new life. Vic's advertising agency might go under if they lose their most important client, so he must accompany his partner to New York City and then Cleveland to see if they can salvage the situation. Finding it incredibly hard to cope with small-town life, Donna had an affair with a local man. Calling it off, she had no idea that her beau would then reveal the truth to Vic just before he needs to fly away. Joe Camber is a mechanic and abusive husband who lives at the edge of town with his family. When his wife Charity wins a lottery prize, she uses most of the money to bribe Joe to finally allow her to take their son Brett on a trip to visit her sister who lives up in Connecticut and show him the possibility of a better life than what they have in the ass-end of Castle Rock. Meanwhile, their lovable Saint Bernard Cujo gets bitten by a bat and is infected with rabies. When Donna takes her Ford Pinto to get it repaired at Joe Camber's shop, she has no idea that what will follow would change her family's life forever.

Stephen King's depiction of blue-collar and middle-class families continues to be top notch and makes for some very good characterization. Whether it's the cheating spouse Donna, the cuckold husband Vic, or their child Tad, or the Cambers, or even the rascal Steve Kemp, the authors truly sucks you into their lives. I've said it many times and I'll probably say it again, but no one can write children the way Stephen King does. His POVs for both Tad and Brett are great. I was surprised that we also get Cujo's perspective from time to time. Not sure it was necessary, but it does show you how the dog's health and its grasp on reality are deteriorating fast.

Cujo is a pretty straightforward story and there are no pacing issues to speak of. Yes, the author sticks the landing at the end. Given that the ending is perfect for what just occurred, I was shocked to discover that many critics were not happy with it when the book originally came out. Which is probably why the movie that came out in 1983 featured a more optimistic ending.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

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