Updated on May 19, 2015
23. ‘Cujo’ by Stephen King
All I can say is, the people who manufacture Ford Pintos must be pissed.
OK, that’s not all I can say, but it is one of the main things. Stephen King must have had a truly terrible experience with one of those cars to write ‘Cujo’, because it’s portrayed as nothing but a hulking shitheap of tortured metal for the entire book.
To distill this story to its essence, (the essence that I was definitely aware of before I even picked up the book) ‘Cujo’ is about a mother and son trapped inside a broken-down car (the crappy Pinto!) with a rabid, man-eating dog outside. Knowing the basic outline of the story beforehand did hinder me, I’m afraid, because during the whole set up of the story I was just thinking, “Get to the bit with the car and the dog!” It was agonising watching the mother going around her daily life, listening to the car fail and ignoring it, thinking that it would probably just be fine, but ultimately all the exposition made the ending a lot richer. By the end, I could see all the parts slotting into place in the lead up to the car’s breakdown, and that brought with it a sense of dread and inevitability.
The writing was somewhat dated: it switches perspective a lot between characters, and sometimes even slips into the dog’s point of view. It reminded me of the sort of matter-of-fact narrative style of ‘Jurassic Park’ by Michael Crichton which, I believe, hails from around the same time. I didn’t find the story creepy, really – there were supernatural elements (visions of a particularly terrifying closet) but mainly it was a very human story. In fact, probably the scariest part was when the mother and son were trapped in the car and she began to lose it.
The end, I have to say, I didn’t see coming. It came down to a matter of just a few crucial minutes and, where I thought things would work out one way, they went in entirely the other direction. I know I’m sounding cryptic, because I don’t want to give away the big reveal, but I did find it thoroughly unexpected. And it’s a testament to this book that, even though it’s permeated the public consciousness so thoroughly, there is still a big reveal to be had.
“When there was nothing left but survival, when you were right down to the strings and nap and ticking of yourself, you survived or you died and that seemed perfectly all right.”
My Stephen King superfan housemate gave me her copy to read (as well as a collection of King’s short stories). This is the first fiction of King’s that I’ve read and I’m certainly keen to read more.
If you liked my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?